LONDON (Reuters) - A man posing as a Taliban leader who had talks with Afghanistan’s president was paid and promoted by British intelligence, a newspaper said on Friday.
British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) agents paid Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour from May this year, believing they had achieved an “historic breakthrough” in forging contacts between the Taliban and the Afghan government, The Times said.
“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 said.
“The British were convinced of the man’s bona fides and flew “Mansour” from Quetta to Kabul on a British C130 transport aircraft on a number of occasions,” it reported.
U.S. newspapers including The New York Times said earlier this week that a man described as a “Taliban leader” who had taken part in “secret peace talks” with the Afghan government was in fact an impostor.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported two senior Afghan officials believed the man was a “lowly shopkeeper” from Quetta, the Pakistan town where the Taliban leadership fled in 2001.
Asked for comment, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We can neither confirm nor deny details of operations.”
Newspaper reports in the United States and Europe last month raised interest that high-level talks, sponsored by NATO, had been held between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders.
Karzai said his government had not met anyone named Mansour.
The Times quoted a senior Afghan government official as saying on Thursday: “British Intelligence was naive and there was wishful thinking on our part.”
Bill Harris, who retired this month as the most senior U.S. representative in Kandahar province, told The Times on Thursday that it was not British intelligence officers alone who were responsible for the error.
Reporting by Michel Rose, Editing by William Maclean and Diana Abdallah