Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, proposed to set up an assassination programme targeting top Taliban leaders during a meeting with the top US diplomat earlier this year, the Middle East Eye (MEE) news website has reported.
The crown prince made the offer during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the UAE on January 12 amid disagreements over the progress of peace talks between US and Taliban negotiators, MEE reported on Thursday, citing to a source with detailed knowledge of the meeting.
According to the source, bin Zayed told Pompeo that Washington risked allowing Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of the “backward, bearded bad guys” and proposed hiring mercenaries to kill Taliban leaders to weaken the group’s negotiating position.
Pompeo was visibly taken aback by the offer, but said nothing, the source reportedly said.
The UAE has supported US efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban, and hosted a first round of negotiations between the two sides late last year in Abu Dhabi.
But bin Zayed is believed to have been frustrated that subsequent rounds of negotiations were moved to Qatar’s capital, Doha, at the insistence of the Taliban, which has maintained a political office there since 2013.
In January, US and Taliban negotiators held a six-day meeting – which was described by Pompeo on Twitter as “encouraging” – in Doha, which also hosted marathon talks over 16 days in February and March.
According to MEE’s source, bin Zayed warned Pompeo that withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan risked a regression back to 2001, prior to the US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban government in Kabul.
The US hopes that a negotiated deal with the Taliban, which continues to battle Afghan government and international forces, could allow it to start withdrawing some of its 14,000 troops still in the country before the end of 2019.
But bin Zayed suggested instead organising what he called a “Blackwater-style” operation to “wage an assassination campaign against the first-line leadership of the Taliban” in order to prevent it from achieving its chief political demands, the source reportedly said.
Blackwater was the private security firm founded by Erik Prince, hired by the CIA in 2004 to locate and kill al-Qaeda operatives covertly.
It gained notoriety over its activities in Iraq where several contractors opened fire on unarmed civilians in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad in 2007, killing 14 people and wounding 17 others.