Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s crown prince, proposed to set up an assassination program targeting top Taliban leaders during a meeting with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year, the Middle East Eye (MEE) news website has reported.
The crown prince made the offer during 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 report, 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 report said.
The UAE has supported US efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban and hosted the first round of negotiations between the two sides late last year in Abu Dhabi.
But according to Al Jazeera news agency, 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.
The report says that bin Zayed suggested instead organizing 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.