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Taliban negotiator a fake, Afghans say

KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- A man involved in talks with Afghan leaders to end the war wasn't a Taliban leader but an impostor, Afghan and U.S. officials said.

After months of meetings, Western officials said Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, thought to be a senior commander in the Taliban movement, wasn't Mansour at all, The New York Times reported Monday.

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"It's not him," said a Western diplomat in Kabul involved in the discussions. "And we gave him a lot of money" to participate in the talks.

U.S. officials also confirmed they had abandoned all pretense that the Afghan was Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership, whose physical identities often are unknown, the Times said.

NATO and Afghan officials said three meetings were conducted with the man who traveled from Pakistan, which Taliban leaders use as a refuge, the Times said. The sham leader even met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace, officials said.

U.S. officials said they were skeptical from the beginning about the man who claimed to be Mansour, with serious doubts arising from the third meeting after a man who knew Mansour years ago didn't recognize the person at the table, the Times said.

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Some officials said the man may have been a freelance fraud, posing as a Taliban leader for financial gain while others say he could have been a Taliban agent.

"The Taliban are cleverer than the Americans and our own intelligence service," a senior Afghan official familiar with the case told the Times. "They are playing games."

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