DESPITE A DECADE OF military operations across Afghanistan, by the winter of 2010 it had become clear that the United States was not succeeding. Hoping to induce the Afghan insurgents into peace talks, U.S. and NATO officials tried to bribe the Taliban to the conference table. They paid an undisclosed and hefty sum to Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour for his participation, at one point flying the Taliban’s second-in-command to meet with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. The talks seemed to be proceeding well. Mansour’s demands were remarkably reasonable. Yet one thing did trouble some officials. Mansour was several inches shorter than he should have been.
Unfortunately, the Taliban commander was a fake😂, a shopkeeper from Quetta, Pakistan. Following the third round of negotiations, the clever merchant made off with a fortune, no doubt laughing as he spirited his wealth away. The episode exposed how poorly the United States knew its enemy in this ongoing war. On a superficial level, American and NATO officials could not even identify the number-two man in their opponent’s organization. On the more strategic level, they did not notice that throughout three separate meetings, the impostor never once requested that foreign troops withdraw from Afghan soil—a staple of Taliban demands. Without concrete descriptions of Mansour’s appearance, the U.S. and NATO had to focus on his behavior. Did he think the way a Taliban commander would? In a sense, they needed to read Mansour’s mind.

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