Afghans Blame British for Taliban Imposter

Surrendering Taliban militants stand with their weapons as they are presented to the media Nov. 4, 2010, in Herat, Afghanistan.
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A senior Afghan official has blamed the British secret service for bringing a Taliban impostor to take part in top-level peace talks with the Afghan government, newspapers reported Friday.

The reports in U.S. and British newspapers follow 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 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.

Prime Minister David Cameron's office and Britain's Foreign Office both declined comment on the reports.

Daudzai was quoted as saying that an Afghan who participated in the meetings knew the man was not Mansour. Afghan intelligence later found that the impostor was a shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta, he 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.

Asked about the report, Cameron's spokesman only said: "I don't want to get into operational details."

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.

Asked about the report, Cameron's spokesman only said: "I don't want to get into operational details."

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.

President Hamid Karzai's younger brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from southern Kandahar that high-profile Taliban seeking contacts with the government are nervous and rarely want their identities divulged.

"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, Karzai's youngest brother and chairman of the Kandahar provincial council said by way of an explanation for how NATO may have been fooled.

Michael Scheuer, a CIA veteran who was the point man in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden until 2004, told The AP in an e-mail 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 agency as an organization was directed not to pay much attention to the Taliban between their coming to power and 9/11; official Washington simply did not give a hoot and money for Taliban-specific operations was very short," he said.

He said the Taliban's strength and the U.S. administration's stated goals of getting out of Afghanistan has created desperation for successes.

The intelligence services "are being pushed to make something happen, really to pull a turbaned rabbit out of a hat. So they are likely moving too fast to please their fretting masters," he said, adding that the U.S. intelligence community is ill-prepared for the task it faces in Afghanistan.

"I also think it is hard to overestimate how short of experienced officers the CIA is and how exhausted the organization is as a whole. With few staying in Afghanistan more than 90 or 120 days it's hard to build relationships and street smarts and so mistakes happen with more frequency. And there is much else going on in the world that requires agency manpower and resources."