CNN host Anderson Cooper aired an exclusive report from network correspondent Clarissa Ward during his Friday evening program featuring an interview she did with an ISIS-K commander two weeks before the group attacked and killed more than a dozen American troops in Kabul.
The commander, whose identity was concealed during the report and who was not identified by his real name, said that his organization was lying low for the moment and was waiting for the right time to strike, which Ward said turned out to be “eerily prophetic.”
Ward also noted that the commander said he could move easily through checkpoints leading into Kabul and that he had no problem getting into the city, a point he made by allowing a CNN crew to film him as he arrived at a hotel where he agreed to meet.
During the interview, the commander said he was in charge of 600 fighters including Pakistanis, Indians, and Central Asians, and that all of them used to be with the Taliban. However, he added, they left the militant group after he said they came under foreign influence.
At one point during the interview, the commander explained why he and his group splintered from the Taliban — notably, because the Taliban were not practicing Islamic law strictly enough.
“We were operating in Taliban’s ranks. However, these people were not aligned with us in terms of belief, so we went to ISIS,” the commander told Ward, who went on to seek clarification on his views of Taliban adherence to and practice of sharia law.
“You see, they can’t present one example where they have enforced fixed Islamic law punishments, where they have cut off a thief’s hand, have stoned to death an adulterer, have stoned to death a murderer,” said the commander.
“They cannot enforce fixed Islamic law punishments because they are under other people’s control, and they implement their plans. So we do not want to implement someone else’s plans, and we only want to enforce sharia. If anyone gets along with us on this, he is our brother. Otherwise, we declare war with him whether he is Talib or anyone else,” he said.
Ward then asked the commander if he had carried out any public executions and ordered suicide bombings.
“Yes. I have too many memories where I was present myself at these scenes,” he responded.
“One memory is that the Pakistani Taliban had come to the Nazyan District, and during the fighting, we capture five people. Our fighters became overexcited and we struck them with axes,” he said.
The district is located in the southeastern portion of Nangarhar Province, which is 100 percent Pashtun.
Later, Ward asked the commander if he and his men had engaged any U.S. Special Forces units, to which he replied that they had.
“Yes. We have faced them on many occasions. We had close combat with them, too,” he said.
The CNN correspondent also asked the commander if it was his intention to carry out international terrorist actions, but he demurred.
“This point is higher than my level. I can only give you information about Afghanistan,” he told her, adding that he believed when U.S. forces finally depart the country it will be easier for ISIS-K to expand and grow in influence.
After the interview, Cooper brought Ward on and asked why an ISIS-K commander who appears to be a strict adherent to sharia law and Islamic extremism would sit down and talk with a woman.
“It’s important for our viewers to understand that there’s always a lot of hypocrisy,” Ward said. “I’ve experienced it many times before. What they say and what they do are very different.”
A number of U.S. national security analysts and lawmakers have expressed concern that once American troops pull out of Afghanistan for good, the country will once again become a haven for terrorist organizations and have international implications.
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