‘Lowly Shopkeeper’ Pretending to Be Taliban Leader Fools NATO, Karzai

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Photo: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images

Somewhere in Quetta, Pakistan, at this very moment, a man is laughing a great, deep belly laugh. Because that man somehow managed to fool NATO and the Afghan government into engaging in peace talks with him under the assumption that he was Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the Taliban's second in command. But, as now seems clear, he wasn't Mansour. In fact, Afghan officials believe he is merely a "lowly shopkeeper."

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."

In this case, the ruse was foiled when people who actually knew what Mansour looks like didn't recognize the impostor in a photo, or at a meeting, according to conflicting reports. Unfortunately, this occurred months into the discussions, after fake Mansour had already wasted plenty of time and had been given "a sizable sum of money to take part in the talks." It's unclear whether that's "Afghanistan sizable" or "American sizable," but it's pretty embarrassing either way.

Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor [NYT]
Negotiator for Taliban was an impostor, Afghan officials say [WP]