SF Chronicle Editorial & Al Jazeera & Reuters – 2010-11-28 01:10:07
Soviet Veteran Urges Afghan Pullout
Al Jazeera Video
Ex-soldier tells Al Jazeera about his many struggles while fighting in Afghanistan in 1980s.
A Humiliating Misstep in Afghanistan
Editorial / The San Francisco Chronicle
(November 27, 2010) — The revelation that the US and Afghan governments were fooled for months by an impostor claiming to be a top-level Taliban commander would be humorous if the consequences weren’t so serious.
A man who claimed to be Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour spent months in peace talks with US officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai before he was unmasked as an impostor — working for whom, we don’t know, because we foolishly let him escape into Pakistan.
So it goes in this troubled war.
So much for those peace talks. And so much for our intelligence in Afghanistan — we spend $80.1 billion annually on intelligence, and this is the best they could do? We can’t defeat the enemy if we don’t even know what it looks like.
The Obama administration is humiliated, but the consequences of this failure are much more serious than a simple loss of face.
The Afghan war has seriously strained the NATO alliance. Many NATO members have already pulled their troops out of Afghanistan or are planning to do so in 2011. Those who haven’t are facing defense budget cuts at home.
Though NATO is still committed to the fight — at the recent Lisbon summit meeting, the membership signed on to continue the Afghanistan mission until at least the end of 2014 — stories like this aren’t likely to stiffen the spines of our allies. They need to believe that we know what we are doing, and a rookie mistake like this isn’t likely to persuade them.
Nor is it likely to persuade the American public. We’ve already been in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years, and success — whatever that will mean in Afghanistan — looks more and more elusive. And with the national deficit commission calling for major cuts to domestic programs and to Americans’ most cherished tax breaks, the public will get only more impatient with an endless and unwinnable war.
There is one group who will not get tired of our war or our foolish mistakes: the Taliban. They are surely laughing at us right now — as they set up their next trap.
Â© 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.
Impostor Deepens Confusion over Afghan Peace “Talks”
Paul Tait / Reuters
KABUL (November 27, 2010) — Afghanistan’s protracted move toward talks with the Taliban bordered on farce on Friday with Afghan and foreign officials trading blame after a fake Taliban “leader” left them red-faced.
Reports about talks have intensified as US President Barack Obama’s December review of his war strategy approaches and as acceptance grows for the need for a negotiated settlement to a war that is widely seen to have gone badly for the United States.
They have also come as US and NATO commanders talk up recent military successes since the last of 30,000 extra troops, ordered by Obama last December, arrived over the summer and fighting intensified in the Taliban’s southern heartland.
Against that backdrop, interest in talks has grown dramatically, although there have been no high-level negotiations confirmed by US, NATO or Afghan officials.
Karzai’s government maintains the process must be Aghan-led and has established a peace council as part of its wider reconciliation efforts.
“The international community, including the US and UK, have been supportive of the peace efforts and have expressed their willingness to help,” a senior palace official told Reuters.
“We have always stressed any direct efforts by the international community toward reconciliation will not only fail to bring results but could be counter-productive,” he said.
Some Western leaders have said the conflict cannot be won militarily. Violence is at its worst across Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 by US-backed Afghan forces despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops.
With US and NATO leaders agreeing at a summit in Portugal last week to meet Karzai’s timetable for foreign combat troops to leave by 2014, the pressure for talks has grown even further.
On Tuesday, The New York Times said a man it had described as a “Taliban leader” who it said had taken part in secret peace talks was in fact an impostor. It said the man met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and was given “a lot of money.
The man, identified as Taliban number two Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was likely just a shopkeeper from Quetta, the Pakistan city where the Taliban leadership fled after they were toppled in late 2001, The Washington Post said.
The palace official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed the meeting, describing it as a “unique case,” but said it was clear he was not Mansour. Afghan officials assumed he was sent by Pakistan’s powerful ISI spy agency, he said.
“We are not sure who this man was exactly and what exactly his motives were,” the palace official said.
“The assumption that he was an ISI asset sent to Kabul to test the waters is the strongest.”
Deepening the farce, Karzai’s chief of staff was quoted by The Washington Post on Friday as saying that “British authorities” were responsible for taking the Taliban impostor into Karzai’s palace in “July or August.”
“This episode has embarrassed Afghan and Western officials, and it has undercut the notion circulated earlier this year by senior US officials that there was some momentum toward talks,” the paper said.
Neither British nor US officials would comment on the latest report. “We don’t comment on operational matters,” a spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Kabul said.
Britain’s Times newspaper reported the man acting as Mansour had been paid and promoted by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service.
“Far from being a former Taliban government minister, the individual concerned is now thought to have been a shopkeeper, a minor Taliban commander, or simply a well-connected chancer from the Pakistani border city of Quetta,” it reported.
Contacts between Karzai’s government and the Taliban have been maintained for the past two years and included a failed attempt to broker talks in Saudi Arabia in 2009. Karzai and NATO describe the contacts as little more than preliminary.
Despite blanket denials by Afghan, US and NATO officials, the flurry of guardedly sourced media reports began on October 5 when the Post reported Kabul had started secret talks with the Taliban to negotiate an end to the war.
On October 20, The New York Times quoted an unidentified Afghan source as saying leaders from the Taliban’s “Quetta shura” and the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network had held “extensive” talks with the government.
Analysts warn that there was likely a high degree of media manipulation being attempted by European and US officials.
European NATO leaders are under pressure from an increasingly skeptical public to justify their continued commitment to the costly and unpopular war. Conversely US officials who in the past may have been reluctant on talks now want to be seen to be leading the process. The Taliban routinely say no peace talks are possible until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
Additional reporting by Michel Rose in London; Editing by Andrew Marshall.
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