Taliban impostor U.K.'s fault: Afghan official
A senior Afghan official has blamed the British secret service for bringing a Taliban impostor to sensitive, high-level peace talks with the Afghan government, newspapers reported Friday.
The reports emerged in the wake of the revelation that a man leading the Taliban side of peace talks with the Afghan government was impersonating former Taliban cabinet minister Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour.
The fake Taliban commander, said to actually be a Pakistani shopkeeper, received thousands of dollars in goodwill payments from the Afghan government, British newspapers reported, and was flown on NATO aircraft.
The Washington Post quoted Mohammad Omar Daudzai, President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff, as saying Thursday that British authorities brought the man to meet with Karzai in July or August. Karzai has denied meeting with Mansour.
Daudzai was quoted as saying that an Afghan who participated in one of the negotiating sessions knew Mansour and eventually outed the impostor — but not before he vanished with the money. Afghan intelligence later found that the impostor was a shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta, Daudzai said.
"International partners should not get excited so quickly with those kinds of things," he was quoted saying, adding that the incident shows that the Afghan peace talks should be "Afghan-led and fully Afghanized."
The Times of London reported that MI6, Britain's foreign spy service, paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to the impostor to keep the talks on track.
The paper quoted an unnamed Afghan government official as saying: "British intelligence was naive and there was wishful thinking on our part."
According to the report, MI6 agents in Pakistan believed they had made a breakthrough after making contact with a man claiming to be Mansour and flew him from Quetta to Kabul on British aircraft several times.
The Guardian newspaper said that the faker received thousands of dollars in goodwill payments from the Afghan government, and that he was recruited into the peace talks with the approval of the former American commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal.
British Prime Minister David Cameron's office and Britain's Foreign Office said little about the reports.
Cameron's spokesman only said: "I don't want to get into operational details."
Impostor reportedly met with NATO three times
According to the New York Times and the Washington Post, the impostor met with Afghan and NATO officials three times — including once with Karzai — before they discovered he was not Mansour. He was allegedly paid to attend.
Mansour, a former civil aviation minister during Taliban rule, was a well-known leader and had a high-profile job in the movement's ruling council. It is not clear why officials would have had such a difficult time identifying him.
The Times of London quoted Bill Harris, a retired U.S. representative in Kandahar province, as saying British agents were probably not the only ones to blame for the mistake.
Michael Scheuer, a CIA veteran who was the point man in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden until 2004, told The Associated Press that the agency did not have a good understanding of the Taliban before the Sept. 11 attacks and that it lacked experienced officers in Afghanistan.
The intelligence services "are being pushed to make something happen, really to pull a turbaned rabbit out of a hat," he said. "So they are likely moving too fast to please their fretting masters."
Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Karzai's younger brother, said that one of the difficulties in trying to verify the identities of high-profile Taliban leaders is their reluctance to have anyone know of their discussions with the government.
"When someone high level from the Taliban meets with anyone, they always say 'don't mention my name to anyone' because they are afraid of the Taliban," he told AP in trying to explain how NATO may have been fooled.