A top-level Taliban commander who spent months in peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan governments turns out to have been an impostor. The man, who claimed to be Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, had reportedly been given large amounts of money and had a personal meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as part of the effort to win peace. In other words, the months of Taliban peace talks have been, as some skeptics initially warned, largely a farce. Here's what people are saying about this disappointing setback, including some "laughing to keep back the tears" commentary.
- We Are 'Crippled' by Military's Over-Optimism Foreign Policy's Joshua Foust writes, "This impostor is another data point that ISAF is crippled by its own leadership, believing its own spin about how well the war is going. As Michael Cohen has noted, only the U.S. military is truly optimistic about the chances for success in Afghanistan -- literally every other party to the conflict, including the Taliban, is convinced the U.S. is slowly losing its ability to win. ... If we can learn anything from this, it is that the U.S. military is so blinded by its belief in its own effectiveness that it won't examine its own failures to see what went wrong."
- Identifying Talibs Is Hard New York Magazine's Dan Amira notes, "Identifying members of the Taliban has been a long-standing problem for American officials. Many of them don't have official documents or even Facebook accounts, and a NATO official estimates that 'about 40 percent of the time the men turning themselves over to the government may not be the Taliban fighters they claim to be, but rather are looking for money or protection or something else.'"
- Our Intel in Afghanistan Is Clearly Awful Professor and liberal blogger Juan Cole colorfully calls this "Only the latest depressing indication that the whole Afghanistan boondoggle is shot through with flimflammery." He writes, "The incident demonstrates that US and Afghanistan intelligence on the Taliban is very poor, since they don’t even know what the leaders look like. It means that they don’t have double agents high up in the organization with whom they could have checked on Mansur’s absences from his home base– while he was hobnobbing with Karzai and the Americans– so as to confirm his identity." National security blogger Spencer Ackerman points out, "The intelligence budget of the United States is $80.1 billion annually. Just felt like interjecting that."
- Real Taliban Don't Want to Negotiate The Nation's Jeremy Scahill exhaustively catalogs the reasons that many Taliban leaders have refused peace talks. "Contrary to the rhetoric emanating from NATO and Washington, the Taliban are not on the ropes and, from their perspective, would gain nothing from negotiating with the US or NATO. As far as they are concerned, time is on their side."
- 10 Ways to ID Taliban Impostors Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell lists them. Our two favorites: "9. Eyepatch switches sides from meeting to meeting" and "5. Claims to be texting Mullah Omar but is actually just playing Angry Birds the whole time."
Taliban imposter story devastating, but this sort of thing happened all the time in Iraq -- lots of false start dialogues w/wrong people