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UK agents in secret talks with Taliban

London, Dec. 26: MI6 agents entered secret talks with Taliban leaders despite Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s pledge that Britain would not negotiate with terrorists, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Officers from the Secret Intelligence Service staged discussions, known as “jirgas”, with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer.

An intelligence source said: “The SIS officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide ‘mentoring’ for the Taliban.”

The disclosure comes only a fortnight after the Prime Minister told the House of Commons: “We will not enter into any negotiations with these people.” Opposition leaders said that Brown had “some explaining to do”.

The government was apparently prepared to admit that the talks had taken place but Brown was thought to have “bottled out” just before Prime Minister’s questions on December 12, when he made his denial instead.

It is thought that the Americans were extremely unhappy with the news becoming public that an ally was negotiating with terrorists who supported the September 11 attackers.

MI6’s meetings with the Taliban took place half-a- dozen times at houses on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley to the north-east of Helmand’s main town.

The compounds were surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon.

To maintain the stance that President Hamid Karzai’s government was leading the negotiations the clandestine meetings took place in the presence of Afghan officials.

“These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms,” an intelligence source said. “The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban.”

Brown had denied reports of talks with the Taliban under questioning from David Cameron, the Tory leader.

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