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Kelly McCann: The role of special operations in finding bin Laden

J. Kelly McCann is President and CEO of Crucible Security Specialists of Falmouth, Va. A retired Marine Corps major, McCann was a special operations officer emphazing in anti-terrorism. His firm consults in the areas of antiterrorism and security. Its clients include the United States military and federal government, municipalities. Various members of the U.S. military's special operations forces received training from Crucible prior to entering Afghanistan in October. McCann joins us from Falmouth.

CNN: Welcome Kelly McCann, and thank you for joining us today.

KELLY McCANN: Hello everybody. Any questions are fair game, and if I can't answer, I'll so state.

CNN: We know that special operations forces were working in the opening days of the campaign in Afghanistan. What is their role now that the U.S. is approaching its third month of this war?

McCANN: Of course their first role appeared to be that they'd be used in a conventional role, but what actually happened is that General Franks used them in their traditional unconventional role and used the Northern Alliance as the conventional soldiers, which made a lot of sense. They were advisors, putting eyes on targets, and putting lasers, designators, to direct fire power. So now, what we're seeing is more technical advice about how to go ab out moving into the caves, I'm sure they're being used in their demolition expertise capacity, to check for booby traps and what not. And lastly, they're also continuing to do reconnaissance and surveillance on targets.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: When the special ops find bin Laden, will they kill him or bring him in alive?

McCANN: That depends on bin Laden's actions. The truth is that when you go into a confined space where there are a potential mixture of combatants and non-combatants, the process each US soldier will have to do is discernment, discrimination and engagement. Discern a threat, discriminate that threat from non-combatants, and then using superior marksmanship and speed, engage only combatants. So, if bin Laden or those around him act furtively, or in a manner consistent with aggression, they will be killed.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why did we not have more special forces troops involved in the areas where bin Laden and Omar were suspected to be?

McCANN: First of all, they are a limited resource, and it is in nobody's doctrine to win a war solely with special forces. They support conventional operations. Secondly, to the extent possible, we want the Afghans to win their own war.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is capturing Osama bin Laden still a possibility?

McCANN: Absolutely. It really comes down to time and material, and how much time, how much material, how much assets we're willing to put against that one objective. We need to remember that the one objective is to make the al Qaeda unable to hurt Americans domestically or abroad. The sole objective was never bin Laden.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Isn't this a victory for bin Laden just being able to sneak away without being captured?

McCANN: Absolutely not. Number one, because nobody except people with total access to all the intelligence knows that's a true statement. Number two, bin Laden certainly appeared fearsome directly after September 11, and now he's been reduced to hiding and running, in fear of his life, which he always had stated he would gladly lay down.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: If bin Laden is not in Afghanistan, where do you think the U.S. should look?

McCANN: A subject of great debate, to be sure. Some of the countries worthy of consideration are Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, the Philippines. But it becomes an issue of logistically, what was he able to engage while potentially being surveilled, and how long would that method of transportation, or that network, take to get him there.

CNN: Your company offered special training to special operations officers prior to their departure to Afghanistan in the fall. What unique things did you need to teach them about Afghanistan and al Qaeda in particular?

McCANN: Our company curriculum is unchanged from prior to September 11. Our core competencies run to specifically high risk environment training. ...specifically, those physical skills necessary to survive, close proximate violent attacks, similar to what occurred in the prison in Mazar e-Sharif.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Are the troops prepared for a suicide mission, considering bin Laden may not be taken alive?

McCANN: Absolutely. Historically, we know that is a method of attack that has been used, and really, it comes down to combat efficiency, not fearlessness. If you're fearless, but combat inefficient, you can be killed easily by fearful troops who remain courageous and combat-efficient. And I'm not insinuating that our troops are fearful to the point of being inproficient, because that is NOT the case.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: We seem awfully busy chasing bin Laden around the "barnyard." Aren't there smarter strategies for capturing bin Laden?

McCANN: Rest assured that what you're seeing is what you are allowed to see, and what you are allowed to know. As the President stated very early, there are many, many parallel methods and venues being used and engaged while people mostly fixate on Afghanistan.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How do we know the radio signals [heard from the caves of Tora Bora] were not a tape?

McCANN: We are certainly, I'm sure, trying to discern that that was an actual voice transmission, and not a pre-recorded transmission designed to deceive the U.S. concerning his whereabouts. However, an undertaking like that is difficult, given battlefield conditions, poor quality radios, and a challenging signals environment such as Afghanistan.

CNN: Why did we learn so much about the killed CIA officer Mike Spann? Aren't those deaths supposed to remain anonymous?

McCANN: I asked an old friend of mine who was a Marine Raider in World War II, and following that, a career CIA officer throughout the Cold War. He told me that if it was released, it was for a purpose -- perhaps to let people know the depth of involvement across many governmental agencies, and many different department of defense entities in the conflict.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why do you think Osama picked Afghanistan from the hat of possible regions to start training camps? What regions would be most likely to be used for the next round of training camps?

McCANN: Largely, he based his choice, presumably, on several factors. One, a support of a host nation. Two, a basic inaccessibility. Three, a mythological history as a battlefield that is difficult to win on. As for the next battlefield, I champion the battlefield where we have suffered the most American casualties to date -- here in the United States. Any training camps necessary to support terrorists who might deploy here to the United States will be hard to start up under the growing magnifying glass that the world community seems to be interested in developing.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments for us today?

McCANN: I appreciate everybody asking these questions, and staying informed. And I challenge everybody to remember that nobody, in government or military service, wakes up and says: "Today is my day to make the biggest mistake of my life." In sharp contrast, they're all trying to do the absolute best they can to safeguard all of us and those we love. More than ever, we need to be vigilant, supportive, and understanding.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Kelly McCann.

McCANN: Thank you.

Kelly McCann joined Newsroom via telephone from Virginia. provided a typist for him. This is an edited transcript of the interview on Tuesday, December 18, 2001.


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