December 28, 2005

NBC Nightly News: An interview with a Taliban commander

NBC Nightly News Investigative Unit chief Lisa Myers did a story for which I provided input, as well as an interview.

An interview with a Taliban commander

Behind some of the most deadly attacks against U.S. troops is one man: a 35-year-old Afghan who calls himself 'Commander Ismail'

By Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit

WASHINGTON - Four years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are showing renewed strength, using suicide bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. They are even training the next generation.

Since June 2005, 54 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan, by far the most lethal period since the U.S. invaded.

Behind some of the most deadly attacks is one man, a 35-year-old Afghan who calls himself “Commander Ismail.”

In his first interviews with Western media, Ismail brags about killing three Navy Seals this summer, then downing a Chinook helicopter that came to rescue them, killing another 16 Americans.

Commander Ismail says ousted Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive and well and that the Mujahaddin are fighting under his command and control.

NBC News interviewed Ismail in August and again this month. Both times, the Taliban made sure we could not provide their location to the U.S. military. An NBC producer was taken on a confusing seven hour odyssey to an unknown location, where Ismail then appeared.

Ismail boasts that in June, he deliberately laid a trap for American forces. "We certainly know that when the American army comes under pressure and they get hit, they will try to help their friends. It is the law of the battlefield."

A tape obtained by NBC News showed what appears to be some of the battle, and the terrorists’ unsuccessful attempt to coax a Navy Seal to surrender. When the U.S. military sent in a rescue team, Ismail’s men were waiting with a rocket-propelled grenade, downing the helicopter, and then spreading out recovered weapons and hi-tech equipment. Later, they displayed captured communications equipment and weapons.

Ismail also predicts more bloodshed to come.

NBC News provided details of the interview to U.S. intelligence. Senior officials say his claims are consistent with what they know about the battle, and they have no reason to believe that the man is not Commander Ismail.

Rick Francona, a former Air Force intelligence officer and now an NBC News analyst, calls the interview revealing. “It’s important that all Americans see who we’re dealing with here— the face of the enemy,” says Francona.

“They’re smart, they adapt to changing tactics, and they are utterly ruthless in their execution,” he adds.

The Pentagon declined to comment on Ismail’s claims. But U.S. officials confirm the enemy in Afghanistan has grown more bold and more vicious.

For the video, go to:

© 2005