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Taliban Talks Suspended; White House Questioned Over Film

Posted on the 11 August 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Taliban soldiers. Photocredit: isafmedia

Taliban soldiers. Photocredit: isafmedia

Afghanistan is back in the news, in a big way. Firstly, secret talks between the Taliban (the Afghan fundamentalist organisation), and the United States and its allies have collapsed after only three sessions. Secondly, over questions that the White House gave filmmakers special access to secret information concerning the death of Osama bin Laden, the Taliban leader killed in May 2011.

Afghan leaders, reportedly nervous about being left out of the deal, leaked details of the meetings (two in Germany and one in Qatar)  to The Washington Post. The identity of the Taliban’s chief negotiator, Tayed Agha, was made clear. The secrecy of his identity was one of the conditions of the talks. Agha is a former private secretary of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The meetings were chaired by Michael Steiner, Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and attended by senior officials from the US State Department and the CIA.

Previously, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said that talks with the Taliban were the way to go: “I’m not saying it will all be settled by the end of the year. I’m just saying you could begin a serious dialogue by the end of the year.”

  • Walking the tightrope. These tentative first steps towards a negotiated settlement were intended to show that the United States was “serious” about coming to a resolution. The details were apparently leaked deliberately by “paranoid” Afghan officials, reported Dean Nelson on The Daily Telegraph. “Tayeb Agha has not been seen since,” with American officials unable to contact him. These talks had “kindled cautious hope in Kabul.” The disclosures, though, are “regarded as damaging by the insurgents,” who have repeatedly claimed that they will drive out the invaders by force rather than negotiation. Afghan officials say the talks have now been “blown out of the water.”

As these revelations threaten peace in Afghanistan, there’s trouble brewing back in the US about another sort of potential leaking. Peter King, chair of the House of Representatives homeland security committee, has called for an inquiry into reports that the White House gave special information to filmmakers making a film about the death of Osama bin Laden (killed in May 2011 after almost a decade in hiding). King has asked about “the advisability of providing Hollywood executives with access to covert military operators and clandestine CIA officers.” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, has dismissed such claims as “ridiculous” , reported the BBC. The film, made by Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal (who directed and wrote, respectively, The Hurt Locker), is set to open on 12 October 2012.

  • A boost for Obama? Maureen Dowd  on The New York Times wrote that the White House is counting on Bigelow’s film  “to counter Obama’s growing reputation as ineffectual.” They’re hoping the film will “reflect the president’s cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds.” The filmmakers have been given “top-level access to the most classified mission in history.” The White House has “outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood.” Obama’s counting on it – though at least, unlike George W Bush and W., “something has been accomplished.”

“To find there’s a movie coming out and there’s been cooperation with Hollywood . . . considering the track record of the last 90 days, I’m concerned.” Peter King.

  • There have been lots of reports already. Peter King’s demand, said Jason Ukman in The Washing Post, follows “a flurry of investigative reports” on Osama bin Laden’s death. The New Yorker “published a long, narrative reconstruction of the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.” Whilst officials have tried to “clamp down” on unauthorised use of information, “King said the administration doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to keeping a tight hold on information about the raid.”

  • The important thing is, it’s an American triumph. Julian E Barnes on The Washington Post blog said that the filmakers didn’t address the issue of CIA cooperation, but they did say their “film is about the decade-long pursuit of bin Laden, covering the efforts of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.” It’s not a political film, the statement said, but “an American triumph, both heroic, and non-partisan and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise.” Pentagon officials have claimed that the military provided “only basic technical assistance.” The Pentagon has yet to decide whether to help the filmmakers any more, whilst Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the CIA, was quoted as saying “Our goal is an accurate portrayal of the men and women of the CIA, their vital mission, and the commitment to public service that defines them.”

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