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Fooled! US, Afghan officials talked to fake Mullah

Last updated on: November 24, 2010 02:07 IST

Fooled! US, Afghan officials talked to fake Mullah

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Top US and Afghan officials have apparently been conned by a man claiming to be a leading Taliban negotiator in secret talks with Afghan officials.

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 Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement, The New York Times reported.

But now, it turns out that Mansour was apparently not Mansour at all, as US and Afghan officials now say that the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little, it added.

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Image: Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Photographs: Reuters
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"It's not him," said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. "And we gave him a lot of money."

On Monday, American officials confirmed that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership, the paper said.

NATO and Afghan officials said that they had held three meetings with the man, who travelled from Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have taken refuge, and that the fake Taliban leader even met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, the paper said.


Image: Karzai with David Petraeus, commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan

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While US officials said that they were sceptical from the start about the identity of the man who claimed to be Mullah Mansour -- who by some accounts is the second-ranking official in the Taliban, behind only the founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar -- serious doubts arose after the third meeting with Afghan officials, held in the southern city of Kandahar, the paper added.

According to the paper, a man who had known Mansour years ago told Afghan officials that the man at the table did not resemble him. "He said he didn't recognise him," said an Afghan leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

While the Afghan official said that he still harboured hopes that the man would return for another round of talks, US and other Western officials said that they had concluded that the man in question was not Mansour, it added.



Image: Karzai with Afghan tribal leaders

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Since the last round of discussions, which took place within the past few weeks, Afghan and American officials have been puzzling over who the man was.

While some officials say that the man may simply have been a freelance fraud, posing as a Taliban leader in order to enrich himself, others are of the view that he may have been a Taliban agent, said the paper.

"The Taliban are cleverer than the Americans and our own intelligence service," said a senior Afghan official who is familiar with the case. "They are playing games."

Others suspect that the fake Taliban leader, whose identity is not known, may have been dispatched by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, the paper said.

Elements within the ISI have long played a "double-game" in Afghanistan, reassuring United States officials that they are pursuing the Taliban while at the same time providing support for the insurgents, it added.


Image: The Pentagon

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Source: ANI