The Italian Army (Esercito Italiano) is the land defence force of the Italian Republic. Recently it has become a professional all-volunteer force of active-duty personnel, numbering 109,703 in 2008. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft the Mangusta attack helicopter, recently deployed in UN missions.
The Italian Army originated as the Royal Army (Regio Esercito) which dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy following the seizure of the Papal States and the unification of Italy (Risorgimento). In 1861, under the leadership of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy was invited to take the throne of the newly independent kingdom.
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Italian Army – Combat Operations
A post-World War II peace treaty signed by Italy prevented the country from deploying military forces in overseas operations as well as possessing fixed-wing vessel-based aircraft for twenty-five years following the end of the war.
This treaty expired in 1970, but it would not be until 1982 that Italy first deployed troops on foreign soil, with a peacekeeping contingent being dispatched to Beirut following a United Nations request for troops. Since the 1980s, Italian troops have participated with other Western countries in peacekeeping operations across the world, especially in Africa, Balkan Peninsula and the Middle East.
As of yet, the Italian Army has not engaged in major combat operations since World War II; though Italian Special Forces have taken part in anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan as part of Task Force ‘Nibbio’. Italy was not yet a member of the United Nations in 1950, when that organization went to war with North Korea.
Italy did take part in the 1990-91 Gulf War but solely through the deployment of eight Italian Air Force Panavia Tornado IDS bomber jets to Saudi Arabia; Italian Army troops were subsequently deployed to assist Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq following the conflict.
As part of Operation Enduring Freedom in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, Italy contributed to the international operation in Afghanistan. Italian forces have contributed to ISAF, the NATO force in Afghanistan, and a Provincial reconstruction team and 5 Italian soldiers have died under ISAF. Italy has sent 411 troops, based on one infantry company from the 2nd Alpini Regiment tasked to protect the ISAF HQ, one engineer company, one NBC platoon, one logistic unit, as well as liaison and staff elements integrated into the operation chain of command. Italian forces also command a multinational engineer task force and have deployed a platoon of Italian military police. Three AB 212 helicopters also were deployed to Kabul.
The Italian Army did not take part in combat operations of the 2003 Second Gulf War, dispatching troops only after May 1, 2003 – when major combat operations were declared over by the U.S. President George W. Bush. Subsequently Italian troops arrived in the late summer of 2003, and began patrolling Nasiriyah and the surrounding area. On 26 May, 2006, Italian foreign minister Massimo d’Alema announced that the Italian forces would be reduced to 1,600 by June. As of June 2006 32 Italian troops have been killed in Iraq – with the greatest single loss of life coming on November 12, 2003 – a suicide car bombing of the Italian Carabinieri Corps HQ left a dozen Carabinieri, five Army soldiers, two Italian civilians, and eight Iraqi civilians dead.
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As of 2006, Italy ranks third in the world in number of military forces operating in peacekeeping and peace-enforcing scenarios Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Lebanon following only the United States and United Kingdom.
A recent law promotes membership of the Italian Army guaranteeing volunteers post-Army careers in the Carabinieri, Italian State Police, Customs Police, State Forestry Department, Fire Department and other state bodies.