Friday, 3 December 2010

Intelligence, eyes in the sky, shopkeepers and the Afghan war

Shopkeepers and conspiracy theories normally do not go hand in hand. But in Afghanistan anything is possible. So when the west's favourite Afghan son, president Karzai, decided it was time to indulge in that oldest of Afghan survival tactics, i.e. switching allegiances, an unlikely story came together.
Surely, when one of the world's most xenophobic and least understood parts of the world, i.e. Afghanistan, suddenly comes to dominate the international community's security agenda, accidents are bound to happen.
This particular accident has been nine years in the making.
The foundation was laid in late 2001 when US troops supported the Afghan Northern Alliance forces in overthrowing the then Afghan Taliban government. Many will rightly argue that in actual fact the groundwork was laid in December 1979, the date the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to support the Afghan wing of the global communist movement, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.
Soviet spetsnaz (special forces) prepare for an Afghani mission in the 1980s

After approximately ten years of increasing involvement and ever changing military tactics, Soviet leader Gorbachev decided it was time to bandage the Soviet Union's 'bleeding wound.' Ten years after the US invasion and more than a hundred thousand soldiers later, US forces are also preparing for a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding the popular wisdom of history repeating itself, history never repeats itself perfectly. However, history does teach us that for wars to end there are just two options: an annihilation of one of the combatants; or some form of negotiated compromise between the two main protagonists.
Ten years and fighting, the annihilation of the Taliban seems unlikely.
For a multitude of reasons, Washington's modern centurions and their mighty war machines are unable to subdue marauding bands of bearded barbarians (aka the Taliban).
Discipline, training, laser guided weaponry and an unlimited budget have not been enough to win the war. Consequently, 'back-channel' negotiations between the two forces have been ongoing for some months.
Observers may wonder who speaks for the Afghan republic, i.e. Karzai, the US, or the various NATO generals operating around the country. The Taliban, on the other hand, as a 'rag-tag bunch of bearded bandits' may propose any number of mullahs to negotiate on their behalf.
And so it was that one of the Afghan Taliban's top leaders, Mullah Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, spoke words of peace with Afghan leaders recently. It is alleged the Taliban's former civil aviation minister even met with Afghan president Karzai.
From his 'base' in Quetta, Pakistan, Mullah Mansour was flown to Afghanistan by a specially arranged NATO airplane. Additionally, in the true spirit of peace talks, Afghan authorities 'donated' hundreds of thousands of US dollars to the mullah to help him decide how enthusiastically to proceed with the negotiations.
All security analysts are aware that billions of dollars are spent annually by the US and other western nations on their sophisticated and extensive intelligence establishments.
Undoubtedly, the intelligence dollars represent money well spent. The best and brightest Pashto and Balochi speaking agents keep the US homeland safe.
If there is ever any doubt about an intelligence operation, then employ the failsafe tactic of shooting off a few drones into Pakistan. If the drones do not work, then implement the accepted and internationally popular strategy of blaming the Pakistani security establishment for clandestinely supporting Islamic militants.
Spot the difference - Soviet soldier in the 1980s or American in the 2000s?

With all the money, men and hardware behind the western operation in Afghanistan, one can rest easy that the US and western intelligence knew the man they were speaking with to be Mullah Mansour. Surely, the mullah's screening was at least as rigorous as required for a Muslim from a 'high risk' country obtaining a visit visa to a western nation?
Months into the negotiations, and probably a few million dollars too, it turns out that our man Mullah Mansour was not a senior Taliban member after all. It seems all the 'intelligence signatures' collated by the CIA, MI6 and the Afghan authorities were 'misinterpreted.'
The good mullah posing as a top Taliban leader is merely a shopkeeper in Quetta, Pakistan.
The Grand Moofti speculates that 'Pretender Mullah Mansour' has recently sold his Quetta shop. Most likely, he is now leading a quiet retired life in his home village located somewhere in Eastern Afghanistan. A few dollars go a long way in eastern Afghanistan.
Clearly, this particular mullah is no longer a member of the so-called Quetta Shura.  
In the land of the blind, the Taliban's one-eyed Mullah Omar remains the King. And no matter how many remotely controlled electric eyes the west may have focused on Afghanistan, a good old fashioned charlatan with a beard and a turban is all that was required to fool the best and the brightest.

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