LONDON (AFP) – MI6 agents were responsible for promoting an impostor who they believed was a senior Taliban commander key to the Afghan peace process, the Times reported Friday.
Intelligence agents paid the man several hundred thousand dollars, convinced he was a senior commander with the authority to negotiate with senior American and Afghan officials on behalf of the insurgents.
It is now believed that he was either a minor Taliban figure or simply a con-man.
A senior Afghan government official told the newspaper: “British intelligence was naive and there was wishful thinking on our part.”
MI6 believed it had contacted Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, an ex-Taliban government minister and second to Mullah Omar in its leadership. They flew him to Kabul on numerous occasions.
Afghan officials told the Times that a meeting took place with President Hamid Karzai in his Kabul palace, although Karzai denied on Tuesday that the meeting had never occurred.
It was believed that the US had helped Britain check the man’s bona fides using signal intelligence, the Times reported.
Former US representative in Kandahar, Bill Harris, told the paper that the embarrassing mistake was not Britain’s alone, saying “something this stupid generally requires teamwork.”
The US Central Intelligence Agency was reportedly sceptical of British claims. In June, CIA director Leon Panetta said that no serious approaches had been made.
After the story broke Tuesday in the New York Times, General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, told a press briefing in Germany he was not surprised.
“There was scepticism about one of these all along and it may well be that scepticism was well-founded,” he said Tuesday.
Doubts began to arise last month when an Afghan official, who had met the real Mullah Mansour, claimed it was not the same man, the New York Times reported. The man who had been posing as Mullah Mansour then disappeared.
“It should have been the Afghans themselves who should have pointed out the almighty cock-up,” a source told the London Times. “Sometimes NATO doesn’t know one bearded, turbanned Taliban leader from another.”