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Posted by on Nov 23, 2010 in Guest Contributor, Politics, War | 0 comments

Walter Mitty Goes to War

One of the best short stories ever written – later made into a movie starring Danny Kaye – was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty which featured a mild mannered daydreamer who put himself into heroic situations in his fantasies. Thurber’s deft touch made the character into a tragic figure, but sympathetic as well, while revealing the fate of non-conformists in a conformist society.

It appears that Walter Mitty has resurfaced in Afghanistan as a lowly shop owner from Pakistan impersonating a deadly Taliban commander in peace talks with the Afghanistan government and NATO. While there are certainly elements of comedy to the story, the idea that our military could be fooled like this is a little frightening.

Makes me want to throw my ashtray through the monitor:

A man purporting to be one of the Taliban’s most senior commanders convinced both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the NATO officials who flew him to Afghanistan’s capital for meetings, but two senior Afghan officials now believe the man was a lowly shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta.

His daring ruse has flummoxed those attempting to start a peace process with a determined Taliban adversary.

“He was a very clever man,” one of the officials said.

The man claimed to be Akthar Mohammad Mansour, the second-ranking Taliban commander after Mohammad Omar, and he met with Karzai and Afghan officials at least twice in recent months to discuss possible peace negotiations, according to the Afghan officials.

He was flown to Kabul on British military aircraft for the meetings and persuasively portrayed himself as a fighter who spoke for the movement, the officials said. But after showing photographs of the man to those who know the insurgent leader, the Afghan officials have concluded that he was an impostor.

Is this tragicomic? Seriocomic? Or a frightful glimpse into the attitudes of the highest levels of command in Afghanistan?

I see where many of my fellow conservatives are trying to make this incident into a metaphor for Obama administration incompetence and stupidity. Sorry, but that’s a stretch. Besides, there much better examples of that – including what many on the Democratic side of the Hill are calling the worst, the most incompetent congressional liaison shop in history.

This is more a reflection on the mindset of the civilian leadership and military brass in Afghanistan than any general competency issue in the administration. Sure, the administration appointed some of these guys, but this is a failure of individuals in Afghanistan, not Washington. The incident is the result of simple, blatant carelessness: Everybody thought the other guy had vetted the negotiator and all assumed he was who he said he was. The fact that he wasn’t shows a frightening breach in security. How close did this guy get to Karzai? To Petreaus?

This is pure speculation but I sense that the incident shows that the leadership prosecuting the war has either lost hope, or is infected with defeatism to the point that they don’t care as much as they should. It’s no secret the brass doesn’t like the president’s timetable for withdrawal and given the fierce opposition they are getting in Kandahar, they may feel the cause is already lost. The Taliban is in the ascendancy, the war for the hearts and minds of Afghans is going badly, and Karzai is off the reservation. Whatever progress they are making on the ground is coming at a high price in American lives, and there appears to be no guarantee that once the Americans leave, those towns and villages won’t revert to Taliban control.

The faux negotiator is a symptom of what’s wrong with our efforts in Afghanistan. And the lack of respect for our intel people demonstrated here can mean nothing but trouble:

“One would suspect that in our multibillion-dollar intel community there would be the means to differentiate between an authentic Quetta Shura emissary and a shopkeeper,” ssaid a U.S. official in Kabul who did not know about the particulars of the Mullah Mansour case. “On the other hand, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. It may have been Mullah Omar posing as a shopkeeper; I’m sure that our intel whizzes wouldn’t have known.”

While there is speculation – almost certainly done to cover the asses of the brass – that the shopkeeper was an ISI plant introduced to see how far Karzai would go in concessions, that theory seems less an attempt at rationalization and more a casting about for straws.

Frustration and defeatism; can anything be done to turn it around?