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Duping of MI6 reveals Afghan coalition flaws

Mark Urban | 16:50 UK time, Friday, 26 November 2010

For months Britain wooed Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansoor, who claimed to be a high ranking member of the Taliban leadership - but now it is being reported that he duped MI6.

Not only did he milk the intelligence service for hundreds of thousands of pounds, but Britain even facilitated a trip by Mullah Mansoor from Pakistan to Kabul by RAF Hercules for peace talks.

Now it is being alleged that the mullah, who has since disappeared, did not hold any real sway in the Taliban leadership, may indeed have been an impostor, and that MI6 was credulous in claiming that he might offer the hope of a breakthrough in reconciling Afghanistan's warring parties.

While some have spun this as a tale of British incompetence, I would argue the salient lessons are firstly that this saga's emergence speaks volumes about the political disunity at the heart of the coalition's strategy, and that many are over-estimating what might actually be achieved by "talking to the Taliban".

We know about this sorry tale because one senior figure in the Afghan president's office chose to tell the press, arguing that it showed the dangers of foreigners meddling in Afghan peacemaking, and because certain US officials seem to have confirmed the story.

There are therefore clear agendas that run along well understood lines - both of President Hamid Karzai's prickly nationalism and of the CIA's desire to keep its sister agencies in their place.

However, as Bill Harris a senior American official who had until recently been working in Kandahar pithily told the Times, "Something this stupid generally requires teamwork".

In other words, the British may have found this Afghan "intermediary", but other agencies and nationalities would have been involved in the decision to proceed with him and bring him to the presidential palace in Kabul.

The current blame game is a sign of how bad relations are between these major players.

As for oft heard mantra of "talking to the Taliban", this assumes that it is possible to find someone capable of holding a meaningful conversation.

There have after all been efforts to do so by both the Afghan authorities and the foreigners for many years.

The so-called Quetta Shura of Pakistan-based opposition leaders is supposed to reflect the will of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader deposed by the Americans nine years ago.

It is the closest thing there is to a Taliban leadership - hence the target of MI6's efforts - but it is doubtful that it could influence most of those fighting the Afghan government and Nato, even if it wanted to.

There are other major groupings fighting after all - Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami (Islamic Party) and Jalaludin Haqqani's Network to name the largest two.

As Nato officials have told us though, 75% of those fighting their troops do so within five miles of their homes.

The Afghan resistance or opposition is in most places a grassroots phenomenon with little or no, higher co-ordination.

The Afghans fighting President Karzai tend to be just as tribal, factional, and local in outlook as those who supposedly support him.

If the word therefore came from Mullah Omar to cease fire, it is open to question how many armed men in Helmand or Kandahar provinces would actually take any notice of it.

The logic of those who seek to develop contacts with the Quetta Shura is that even a 20% reduction in resistance activity would help.

It would after all save many lives.

While the cost of wooing "Mullah Mansoor" may be extremely high in the context of the typical Afghan family's income, it is pretty trivial when compared to the cost of a few Predator strikes on compounds in Pakistan.


  • Comment number 1.


    It's all in the name. The amount of well-reasoned info regarding 9/11, as a false-flag operation, is now overwhelming. All you need is intelligence.

    In passing - did anyone ever find out what Blair 'knew', that he couldn't tell us (secret intelligence) just before his 'belief' led us into 'Stupid War 1'?

    Watching Tony lecture at Harvard shows just how secret intelligence can be! I couldn't spot any.

  • Comment number 2.

    Nice try but one doesn't have to 'spin' these facts as incompetence? They seem to stand for themselves? They will still be laughing in the tribal border region tea shops as we give them another easy victory? That guy will be a hero?

    basically the uk is out of its depth over there. After having 10 years of intelligence gathering the inability to even correctly identify anyone with tribal power is worrying?

    back in 2002 on the old Great Debate board i challenged anyone to name all the tribes we were fighting and their leadership structure. It was all on the net for anyone who researched it.

    Even today none of these leaders or tribal names are uk household names as they should be. If you don't know who your enemy is [ie name them] what exactly do you know? Are we fighting ghosts? Jinn? Shapeshifters? [there maybe be political reasons for keeping it all nebulous to the public because it makes it easier to sell?]

    the support structure of these tribes runs in the uk which is used for fund raising. One can even identify some of them by their dress code.[black turbans etc]. We need to profile to identify them. Not in the rcist way of 'lucky dip' stop and search etc but profiling the behaviour of people.

    the main strength of the taliban of tribal family networks is also their main weakness. The tight family network that prevents infiltration by 'strangers' and near impossibility of turning people into informers also means if you get one then you can unravel his whole family network etc by establishing family relationships.

    this allows anyone claiming to be taliban to be corroborated with evidence from his tribal background. Taliban leaders are hardly 'loners' that pop out of the bazaar?

    The main problem is the Taliban are not terrorists. They are fighting to free their country from what they see as occupation by satan that, from their point of view, wants to turn their daughters into whores and their sons into unbelievers. Their motivation to win is greater than our motivation to stay so they will 'win'.

    its not our 'religious duty' to make afghanistan in the image of the west. but it is theirs to keep it islamic.

    There seems to have been unrest at Vauxhall ever since Sawers was parachuted in from the FO bypassing the traditional promotion to chief from within? have the old hands jumped ship or been retired leaving the inexperienced and the ideological? Who is doing the slow forensic checking stuff?

  • Comment number 3.

    "Why should Britain tremble", when we have such Sterling examples of British expertise as shown by our heroes in SIS!
    just for the record i happen to be a senior Taliban leader in mufti, masquerading as average British bloke, if MI6 or the CIA want give me couple of million quid in Gold bullion i will do my level best to bring peace to Afghanistan.
    Oh! and by the way i can give you a good price on the Crown jewels, if you want them. " nudge,nudge, wink,wink, say no more!".

  • Comment number 4.

    Mark to be honest, deception at this level is nothing new, like you say in your report, there were many people (agencies) involved. This is quite common practice. The problem here is practical objectives verses strategic objectives. In the theatre things do get desperate at times, leading to such cases where individuals or organised groups HUSTLE governments official for monetary gain. This by the way is not isolated in places like Pakistan. Predator strikes most likely do not even weight against the UK foreign aid package, which is squandered year in year out under the very noses of our officials.

    All I am saying is that go back in history places like Afghanistan, Somalia, parts of what is now Pakistan formally India were very successful and stable countries, until we started to tinker and now we cannot stop what we have started.

    The simple fact is that military action will never win over these people; however economic activity and education can bring about rapid change of hearts and minds, to start with our official need to hold officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan accountable, and not shy away on the pretext of political fall-out from checks and balances and value for money.

  • Comment number 5.

    I was surprised to find your article because mostly what I was seeing was something like this (from spokesperson for the British Embassy in Kabul): "We don't comment on operational matters."
    What a farce!
    Far from being a former Taliban Government Minister, the individual is now thought (Aren't we certain yet?) to have been maybe
    - a shopkeeper,
    - a minor Taliban commander, or simply
    - a well-connected fellow from Quetta.
    Media reports started around October 5; they alerted that Kabul had begun secret talks with the Taliban. There followed blanket denials by Afghan, US and NATO officials. Where was M16?
    Nevertheless, media reports continued saying that leaders from the Taliban's "Quetta shura" and the "al Qaeda-linked Haqqani" network had held "extensive" talks with the government".
    Anyway, here's a hint for next time: The real Taliban routinely say no peace talks are possible until ALL FOREIGN TROOPS LEAVE AFGHANISTAN.

  • Comment number 6.


    yes i agree. Our 'troops' should be money and our 'weapons' should be cultural [radio stations, free books, medical training, road building etc].

    given we 'bribe' our farmers, doctors, dentists, firemen, police, monarchy etc with state money to ensure they do what we want them do and so maintain a stable society then we should adopt that model over there. Assuming we, a bankrupt society, should even be doing it at all. If we didn't pay our farmers subsidy whose to say they wouldn't be growing poppy or skunk or rustling sheep etc?

    for some reason the afghans fighting us are bigged up like some special forces invincible commandos, experts in tactics and strategy but the same afghans trained by us are portrayed as useless and unable to take control of anything? it doesn't add up.

  • Comment number 7.

    6. At 9:11pm on 26 Nov 2010, jauntycyclist

    ". . . the afghans fighting us are bigged up like some special forces invincible commandos, experts in tactics and strategy but the same afghans trained by us are portrayed as useless and unable to take control of anything?"

    Because if that impression was not constantly conveyed, we might start to wonder why 'the world's best fighting forces' didn't pop over one weekend, get it sorted and fly home in time for Sunday dinner.

  • Comment number 8.

    Nato, Afghan, Pakistan - it's all a mess, laughable, if not so bloody. At the Lisbon summit, NATO and Afghanistan signed a Declaration, affirming
    1. “their long-term partnership” and
    2. building “a robust, enduring partnership which will complement the ISAF mission.”
    I mean is this worth the paper it is written on or what?
    Dig this: The Declaration recognises Afghanistan as an “important NATO partner". When did that happen?
    I think this means that NATO and Afghanistan will “strengthen their consultation on issues of strategic concern”. Does this include (I wonder) the attacking and murder of civilians?
    The Declaration is replete with all the right political and military words and means essentially nothing.
    The Declaration also provides for the inclusion of “non-NATO nations” in the cooperation framework. What does this mean? What countries are we talking about, Russia?
    The Lisbon Summit confirms, if anything was needed to confirm, that NATO military presence in Afghanistan will continue even beyond 2014...
    Even after 2014, NATO will maintain its counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan “until we have the confidence that the al-Qaeda is no longer operative and is no longer a threat.”
    All I can say to these pretty words is: Will M16 recognize the correct names next time, will the US? How about they lower themselves to ask Pakistan or Afghanistan?


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