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McCann: 'Many reasons' to go into Liberia

CNN security analyst J. Kelly McCann
CNN security analyst J. Kelly McCann

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(CNN) -- The White House is considering sending a peacekeeping force to Liberia, where the latest wave of fighting between rebels and government troops has left hundreds of civilians dead, senior officials told CNN. President Bush, preparing for his first African trip, has called on Liberian President Charles Taylor, who faces war crimes charges, to leave the country.

CNN security analyst J. Kelly McCann spoke to anchor Miles O'Brien on Thursday about the need for such a mission.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the numbers, first of all. The number of troops. What's an appropriate number? Between 500 and 1,000 troops seems like a thin force to me.

MCCANN: Well, usually, you have got to remember that the initial force that goes in is likely to be a Marine Expeditionary Unit, which uses a Marine battalion as kind of a platform to task-organize and that task-organization has to do with the mission. If it's just to disarm, run checkpoints that would disarm some of these rebel factions and use fixed point sites to kind of direct the kind of movement of troops, that's one thing. If it's combat patrols that will reach out beyond the urban areas that's another thing.

Again, what is the right number? The only people who will make that call are the planners who have all the [intelligence.]

O'BRIEN: I suppose another thing to throw in the mix there is if there is, in fact, a need to pursue and perhaps arrest Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor has not left the country, as President Bush has requested. Of course, that brings up all kinds of possibilities and thoughts of Somalia when you start thinking about it and would that increase the numbers required?

MCCANN: Well, again, it depends. What I've noticed about the past decade [is that] we've gotten focused on one person and every time, if you've noticed a trend that we say we're going to go after one person, ultimately, people find out it's much more difficult than they may have thought to begin with. I think more what this might be like is [ousted military leader Raoul] Cedras, out of Haiti. He was allowed to leave. Basically, the U.S. wanted to see [Haitian President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide brought back in, and Cedras was allowed to leave and he ended up in Panama. I think that that is the first door that's been opened to him. Now if he doesn't take that door, we'll have to see.

O'BRIEN: Of course, he is facing the possibility of war crimes. I guess immunity might have to be offered to Mr. Taylor before he'd leave.

MCCANN: And who would take him? Who would want him in their country? Remember that [Guinea], Sierra Leone -- that region, [those] neighboring countries -- they're all having problems right now ... so it's not likely that they would accept him. In fact, it's been said [that] there are rebel factions from both those countries who are mixing the pot in Liberia. So it's interesting.

O'BRIEN: Another important thing is when the troops get on the ground, the rules of engagement -- how they operate and how they are supported -- it's another way of asking how do you avoid another Mogadishu?

MCCANN: I'll tell you even more than that. The rules of engagement, because we've got more veterans now than we had previously, is the cultural issue and the aloofness to your target. It's one thing when you fight men and you see a male as your target, a man who is a combatant. It's another thing when you see a 14 or 13 or 15-year-old boy and that is significantly different and that will have an impact on the U.S. troops. But there are other reasons to go to Liberia. They run the maritime registry out of there and we know that's kind of linked to terrorism and the movement of drugs that supports terrorism. Conflict diamonds, that's one of the regions that the U.N. put the resolution on that they couldn't sell their diamonds. So, there's many reasons, moral and pax Americana to go into Liberia.

O'BRIEN: And a final thought here, the big picture with forces engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places around the world where there are boots on the ground, is this asking too much of U.S. military forces?

MCCANN: I don't think it's asking too much of the military forces. I think it begs the question about the U.N. and I think that this administration knows that. In other words, here is another case where the U.N. is saying please send some troops here to this region and the administration can turn around and say, but you are supposedly the world army and can't. So there may be other reasons afoot.

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