For at least the past month, Afghan officials assisted by NATO and US diplomats, have been meeting with a man who identified himself as Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. Mansour is one of the highest-ranking members of the Taliban, perhaps second only to Mullah Omar. The intention of the meetings, shrouded in secrecy as they have been, have been either to broker a peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government or to arrange a formal exchange of prisoners. To be honest, no one is entirely sure because the Karzai government hasn’t been particularly forthcoming with the press about the issue.
Now, perhaps, we know why Hamid Karzai didn’t release many details. It turns out that the man they, and we, thought was Mullah Mansour is not Mansour at all.
KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.
But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.
American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.
NATO and Afghan officials said they held three meetings with the man, who traveled from in Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have taken refuge.
The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.
I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or to throw something heavy across the room. Some lowly shopkeeper from Pakistan (at least that’s the best guess) managed to fool not only our government, but the governments of goodness knows how many other NATO nations involved in these talks for at least two months.
Karzai denied this afternoon that his government ever met this man, but I”m inclined not to believe him at all. The Guardian confirmed with “a western official in Kabul” and an unnamed Afghan official that the meetings did happen and that the American government, at least, knew the man was an impostor “for some time”. That contention got backup from the Times, which revealed that our government fully believed Mansour was involved and asked the Times to keep quiet about it.
Last month, White House officials asked The New York Times to withhold Mr. Mansour’s name from an article about the peace talks, expressing concern that the talks would be jeopardized — and Mr. Mansour’s life put at risk — if his involvement were publicized. The Times agreed to withhold Mr. Mansour’s name, along with the names of two other Taliban leaders said to be involved in the discussions. The status of the other two Taliban leaders said to be involved is not clear.
The Obama administration needs to get to the bottom of this situation quickly, because right now, the real story here is that we have no earthly idea what we are doing in Afghanistan.
Now, that may be true, but it’s certainly not the message we want to send to the Taliban or to their head-chopping al-Qaeda brethren, who have to be feeling awfully good about themselves today. Not only did this ruse, which doesn’t appear to have been an intentional Taliban ploy, waste at least two months of precious time but it also exposed how woefully ineffective our intelligence gathering has been. If our government, or any NATO government, doesn’t have enough human intelligence in place to adequately identify the people who are daily trying to kill our solders, then heads need to roll. I realize the situation is difficult. I know that we’re fighting an enemy that doesn’t exactly publish a list of its leadership on an “About the Taliban” page of a website, but still, good intelligence is the foundation of fighting and winning any war. I am, quite frankly, astounded that the ruse went as far as it did and our President needs to make very sure it doesn’t happen again.