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U.S. Troops in Syria Kill Top ISIS Commander; U.S. Troops in Syria Kill Top ISIS Commander; NTSB: Object May Have Struck Derailed Train. Aired 9-10am

Aired May 16, 2015 - 09:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Smerconish. Welcome to the program.

We begin with breaking news. Overnight, U.S. special forces killed a senior ISIS commander during a raid intended to capture him in eastern Syria. No U.S. personnel were killed or injured during the attack which took place inside ISIS territory. Let's get right to CNN military analyst Major James "Spider" Marks. General, who was Abu Sayyaf?

MAJOR JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Abu Sayyaf in the vernacular was the CFO for ISIS. He was responsible for all the oil and gas revenue but he also had been creeping up in the organizational structure as having a very large command and control portfolio, as well. So, this was a significant hit this morning.

SMERCONISH: The White House, of course, has said that we would not put boots on the ground in Syria, it seems like we just did that. Have we established a new precedent?

MARKS: Oh, no. These boots were, look, let's not call them boots. These are special operators that went after a very high-value target, eliminated the target and were able to come back safely with Abu Sayyaf's wife, Um Sayyaf, who really is the deputy to her former husband. This was a high-risk, high-reward operation executed phenomenally.

SMERCONISH: In other words, you're saying there could be great military significance. Intelligence gathered from the wife.

MARKS: Absolutely correct. The interrogation that will follow, following this is significant. That's kind of point number one. Point number two, as a result of this raid, special operators walked away with a lot of documents. A lot of information. Hard drives, computers, et cetera. We will go through, we, the intelligence community will go through that very, very quickly to see if there is targetable intelligence, proof of life of some other captors and what we'll be able to do is build a very strong, very clear picture of what these revenue sources are that have continued to fund ISIS activities. SMERCONISH: It's just interesting that given the ISIS, ISIL

subjugation of women that in this particular case when it comes to terror activities, women seemed to be afforded an equal playing surface. They are put in positions of authority?

MARKS: Yes, I know. That's - the irony of all of this you wonder what playbook you're really looking at. It's not a playback within balanced rules. But we know that. There's a level of barbarism behind their activities that we understand. It's difficult for us, really, to get our hands around it. But the operation that was conducted to go after him was clearly, you can't second guess the national security team. Obviously, it worked out very, very well.

SMERCONISH: General, how replaceable is he? It seems that ISIS or ISIL doesn't have the type of command structure that one would find, say in the U.S. military?

MARKS: Yes, a battlefield commander generally someone who has been in the fight and someone who understands the dynamics of moving men and material across spaces and then engaging in some very specific operations, those individuals can be replaced. But this is the CFO. This is the one who has been running all behind the scenes, has been running all the activities that fund what we see as a matter of routine. What ISIS puts out there. Their activities that we see them routinely conducting.

This is the one who creates the revenue so they can conduct these operations and this amazing marketing arm that they've been able to achieve. This is all now, hopefully, at risk because of this operation.

SMERCONISH: General, please stand by. CNN's chief Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining me now by phone. Barbara, what's the latest from the Pentagon on this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CHIEF PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have been talking, Michael, to a number of sources that will say to you are directly familiar with the operation on the ground in Syria overnight. Now, while this man, Abu Sayyaf was in charge of oil and gas operations, there may be other reasons they went after him.

We need to remember that the U.S. assessment was he was increasingly involved in ISIS's day-to-day operations, command and control. This is the key thing that the U.S. wanted to get some insight into. Two sources telling me that there is reason to believe he may have been in some level of contact with the ISIS leader, Abu Baker al-Bagdadi.

We don't have details on that. But the fact that two sources familiar with the operation on the ground are able to tell us at CNN that there's reason to believe he may have been in contact with Bagdadi begins to shape the picture on why they were willing to risk U.S. troops to go get him.


It wasn't just to get him, but his communication's equipment going into where he was as we have seen over the years in every one of these raids. Trying to get the laptops, trying to get the cell phones and trying to get any intel material in a site to bring it back and exploit it and see what you can find out. We have a couple of other details to share with you.

These U.S. special operations commandos, we are told they were led by the U.S. Army. There was a firefight, but I am now also told that there was hand-to-hand combat on the ground when this all erupted. That there were, it was such close quarters that some of the ISIS people on the ground tried to fight back with hand-to-hand combat in the U.S. Army commandos, obviously, dealt with that situation very quickly. We are told about a dozen or so ISIS personnel on the ground killed by the U.S. commandos.

Abu Sayyaf also fighting back against the U.S. troops and was killed in that. So, I think it's beginning to take shape very rapidly that we may all not have known about this man, but U.S. intelligence did. They were looking at him very closely. They were tracking him. They were beginning to see a picture emerge that he might have a lot of crucial information about top ISIS leadership, about the command and control of ISIS, about their operational activity and the president citing, Michael, it was absolutely worth it to go in and try and get it.

SMERCONISH: Do we know yet, Barbara, which of our special forces successfully pulled off this mission?

STARR: I will tell you that we are told it was Army special operation forces and that usually is essentially defined as Army Delta Force. These along with units like S.E.A.L. team 6 are the best trained, most covert, highly trained commandos obviously in the U.S. military.

If you think about it, these are the kinds of guys that go in deep into enemy territory. Know that they're going to get in a firefight or try to. Their goal is to go in quick as heavy and hot with rapid fire as they can. Immediately control their perimeter. Immediately control their situation. Get their objective, capture or kill and get out as fast as they can.

It is the type of operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. It is the type of operation that they have quietly done for many, many years in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, in Somalia, in Yemen, in Libya. This is what they do. And their rate of success last night was all of them came home safely. Not to put a light note on it, we're told one U.S. guy had bloody knuckles from that hand-to-hand combat and other than that everybody came back fine.

SMERCONISH: Barbara, please stand by. I want to emphasize that this is a CNN exclusive. It's a small force. These are the first American boots on the ground in Syria. General Marks, if I could go back to you momentarily. Wouldn't you expect that an operation such as this would have been accomplished with the support of other nations and, if so, which countries?

MARKS: Clearly Iraq. The operation was based out of northern Iraq, which is the closest point that you'd have to stage. So, the Iraqi government clearly was cognizant and provided not only approval, I would guarantee that they provided layers of support, as well, that would allow the special operators to stage.

The special operators have to come into country. If they are in country, they're totally covert, as Barbara described. They would be in very, very briefly and they have to stage and go through some immediate final rehearsals. All that would have to be done with the support, the understanding and the support of the host nation.

So the Iraqi government got behind this and supported it completely. We did nothing to try to clear the air space or try to clear anything with the government of Syria. We took full advantage, created a corridor, went from Iraq into Syria and hit the target and came back out as quickly as possible.

SMERCONISH: CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is standing. General, I'd be thrilled to get your take on this breaking development of what significance the killing of this ISIS leader.


LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Michael, I'll just put it in perspective. When you get a chief financial guy, as Spider has already said, it is huge. It is one of the lines of operations. There are six, according to the national strategy. The economic piece is one of the more important ones. When you're talking about breaking down that network and finding some things out about not only how the money flows but who it flows to, it would be really beneficial to have more information.

Special operation forces will pull the strings, not only on what they find from the data collected on the scene and the interrogations it will soon follow, but it will also allow them to go after other targets. A hit like this will allow for many, many more hits and it shows, also, truthfully, that is isn't 10 feet tall like some of us have been saying. They are being defeated.

One of the things that I'll just share a combat experience I had when I was commanding northern Iraq in 2007, we hit a key target that really unraveled the financial elements of the Beijing Oil Refinery and how it was supporting Al Qaeda. We not only got the guys that were involved in that but we got the flow. When you get the flow and you know where things are being connected and who else is involved, how the operational commanders are becoming a part of this, what forces it is funding, what kind of weapons manufacturers or transfers that are going on all through the money laundering line, it is a significant (INAUDIBLE).

It was the key thing that happened to me in 18 months in Iraq during that particular tour.

SMERCONISH: General Hertling, is there any individual within the ISIS command, the ISIL leadership whose death, whose execution, such as we're now discussing in Syria could break the back emotionally momentum wise for ISIS or is that just not the way they function? HERTLING: Yes, it's not the way they function, Michael. It's a network. You have to go after multiple targets and it's been interesting to both Spider and I when we hear people say "Hey nobody knew who this guy is." I guarantee you on the law somewhere in special operation command or in a computer in a fusion cell somewhere there's not only Abu Sayyaf who is relatively popular among special operators, this is a good hit and a lot of people knew who he was, that are wearing the uniform, but there are multiple other ones just like him.

There's been a target package being basically built on this guy, probably for months. I can't say specifically, but I know when you're talking about a key strategic target, there is all kinds of things in this particular target package on Abu Sayyaf and Um Sayyaf - they will tell you here's why we want to go after him. Here's why we want to put the resources against it.

Whenever you put American lives, on the line, there has to be a high payoff, when you go into Syria. But, boy, there's going to be a huge payoff from this. Financial, informational, operational is the way I would flow it. Everybody's focused on the operational as primary. But, to me, economic and informational are the two areas we need to go more after.

SMERCONISH: General Marks, on a prior mission, we were in Syria. We did temporarily have boots on ground that was a rescue mission. So I guess the standard is that in special circumstances, the president is prepared to authorize the use of special forces but that there won't be a sustained campaign involving U.S. personnel.

MARKS: Absolutely, Michael.

The notion of boots on the ground is really all about trying to establish a presence over a course of time. When you conduct a special operations like this, you are in and you are out as quickly as possible to get the job done. And as Mark has described, this is a significant, very significant, not serendipitous that we killed the CFO of ISIS. This was targeted, this was known and we're not going to be able to take this intelligence and do a lot moving forward in terms of other targets that we can go after.

And hopefully as Mark described, the flow can be dried up. It can really really start to pick apart what it is that keeps these guys ticking.

SMERCONISH: CNN senior international correspondent Nick Payton Walsh is standing by in Beirut. Nick, what is the preliminary word from overseas?

NICK PAYTON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: According to the Syrian (INAUDIBLE) human rights who have been monitoring Syria for the four years of civil war there, they refer to how this attack have left 19 ISIS militants dead, including a number of foreigners in their rank.

We're talking bout one of the most closely guarded strongholds that ISIS have. This is a huge oil field, (INAUDIBLE) oil fields, very well defended. So, imagine taking the decision to send in to the heart of that dozens of American special forces troops. Very difficult, indeed. We heard from local witnesses that after about half past midnight local time last night, there were a lot of air strikes in the air, presumably softening up the targets and (INAUDIBLE) insertion of special forces troops and I think there is still, despite what we're hearing from the Pentagon, much of a case to be made is as to why Abu Sayyaf merited this level of risk and our drone strikes could have easily have achieved the same goal and they want to take him alive but may also have known that ISIS leadership don't give themselves up necessarily that easily without a fight.

We don't yet have from the Pentagon or White House his full real name, Abu Sayyaf means the father of a child called Sayyaf. And Um Sayyaf means the mother of a child called Sayyaf. So there are more details still to come precisely as to who this man is and that may shed more light as exactly why they though he was so significant.


But one thing Barbara did mention, according to her sources, that he may have been in contact with Bagdadi, Abu Bakar Bagdadi, the ISIS leader. That frankly could make complete sense as oppose to him as the key target for U.S. raid like that, you could imagine the White House had this gone terribly wrong seeing that perhaps taking out Bagdadi could have merited the kind of risk they endured here, a substantial risk. They were flying right into the viper's nest here and this is not an easy task at all.

I think as the hours come out ahead now, we'll learn more details why Abu Sayyaf was so key in the ISIS (INAUDIBLE) or potentially what they were really after or what they felt he may lead them on to where he taken alive, very hard to take ISIS fugitives alive.

Remember, suicide bombing isn't the call of their creed here. It's what they do. The notion, perhaps, this man would allow himself to be taken by Delta forces to firefight like this. A tough one to swallow and you have to ask yourself why were these men sent in at such high risk when a drone so much coalition have in the skies, above that area at that time - during that day (INAUDIBLE) that could have been used instead. So more details, I think, still to emerge here, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Nick, ISIS, ISIL has proven to be very sophisticated with regard to the use of social media. Has there yet been confirmation from them, from either of those groups as to this assassination, this successful raid?

WALSH: Well, ISIS does have media, we haven't heard from that yet, but this is known as the ISIS (INAUDIBLE) fan boys, the phrase is known, following on social media. Some ISIS tweeters or ISIS followers on twitter have been saying, look, if that's the target that the U.S. had, Abu Sayyaf then their operation failed.

So they are keen to play down his significance. As my colleagues, former military colleagues are suggesting, he may well have been a key figure on special operations cell somewhere in Iraq, that the U.S. had their eyes on for a long time.

But he doesn't figure in elements of those publicly known as high-end ISIS leaders. So it's very easy for ISIS to say, we're not so concerned about that. You just have to look at the scale of risk involved here. The volume, potentially, sorry, the latitude of things to have gone wrong in entering into well fortified oil field like this. So far into ISIS territory. It's very messy task, indeed, to try to extract people from there if something were to go wrong.

Bear in mind too, the agonizing the White House went through whether to send soldiers in, physical U.S. personnel in to kill Bin Laden or use a bomb. They sent the personnel in to be sure they an positively identify it was him. You have to ask yourself that perhaps maybe hoping someone of a higher value, more recognizable to the U.S. public, perhaps, was there rather than Abu Sayyaf. Still waiting for his real name to emerge and perhaps more details as to the Pentagon and White House saying the kind of control he had over ISIS financing.

Oil, so important to them, they run a massive black market trade. He used to generate millions for them and air strikes took out part of that infrastructure and damaged it and reduced potentially the revenue flow. It may be the taking out this man yet further reduces it. But, then you also have to look at the statements they make about Umm Sayyaf. ISIS are not known to bring their wives into the business model at all. That would be exceptional, frankly.

Yes, the wives are often involved in social media support, have a role in the organization, but it's not common place for you to hear somebody's wife being his deputy. So that's something certainly, that bears need for more scrutiny. Of course, one fortunate art shot here it appears that a young Yazidi woman, one of the hundreds if not thousands effectively enslaved, physical slaves or sex slaves sometimes by ISIS has been rescued in this operation too. We shouldn't forget that high notes - these are Pentagon and White House releases.

SMERCONISH: Nick Paton Walsh, please stay with us.

When we come back in a moment, I want to pursue Nick's idea the notion that a drone wasn't used here but rather special forces were sent in. This is a remarkable story. We're glad you're tuned to CNN.

When we come back, we'll have the very latest developments in this situation.



SMERCONISH: Welcome back. The president has said he does not want to put boots on the ground in Syria, but we did in this raid. What is the White House saying? CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is at the White House with more. Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, yes, this is a substantial risk for President Obama to put U.S. assets on the ground in Syria and we know from the White House that President Obama did make the decision, made the call himself to do so. As the national security council says that he did so with unanimous recommendation of his national security team and they say as soon as there were sufficient intelligence developed that would lead them to have confidence that this mission would be successful.

But I should say the national security council, they called it a complex mission and what we know from CNN's Barbara Starr reporting, it certainly does sound like it was, including this raid deep into ISIS territory, including at times, according to Barbara Starr, some hand-to-hand combat by U.S. forces.

Now, in this statement from NSE, they make - it notes that Abu Sayyaf was a senior ISIS leader noting that he oversaw oil and gas operations. They also - at least I know and I know you were discussing this earlier, took pains to highlight the wife, Umm Sayyaf, who is captured. They say and in the statement they note they suspect that she played an important role in ISIS terrorist activities.

She is being detained in Iraq right now. Of course, she will be interrogated. The big question is, will she provide, does she know intelligence that can help the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.

Now, Michael, President Obama spoke earlier this week in a newspaper interview about the fight against ISIS in Syria. He said we will remain relentless in our campaign to degrade ISIL safe haven within Syria as part of our broader campaign to destroy ISIL.


Now as Barbara Starr noted this is also the same sort of operation that took down Osama Bin Laden and we know from that operation President Obama then watched in realtime from the situation room, watched every step as it happened in realtime. The big question is, was President Obama in the situation as this mission happened overnight and we are waiting for confirmation from the White House on that point. Michael.

SMERCONISH: Sunlen, do we anticipate that the president will, himself, make remarks on this subject today?

SERFATY: At this time we don't expect that. Of course, that could always change. But we likely will not see President Obama come out. Of course, this could be a good time for him to do that. This was a relatively successful mission. Of course, they did not capture Abu Sayyaf himself back alive, which would have, of course, provided a significant amount of intelligence but they make pains to note, again, they captured his wife and they consider her potentially an important source of intelligence. Michael?

SMERCONISH: Do we know, Sunlen, is the White House characterizing this as a kill or capture mission or was the mission to kill?

SERFATY: We don't know that yet. But that is an important question. Any time in these sorts of missions things go awry and there needs to be decisions that are made on the ground by the U.S. special operations.

Again, going back to the significance of the Osama Bin Laden raid that killed him. We know that President Obama watched every step as it happened. So, it would be, it will be interesting to find out if that was a directive dead or alive or, obviously, I think that the White House said in the past that they believe that they would want to capture these ISIS leaders and these sort of terrorists because they do have valuable information.

Also of note is what was recovered from the mission site. Were there laptops, was there information? All of those details will hopefully come out from the White House, not only do they need leaders dead or alive, but they need their resources on the ground that can help really create the full picture of what ISIS is up to.

SMERCONISH: CNN's Sunlen Serfaty at the White House. Thank you so much for your report.

May I go back please to Generals Marks and Hertling. General Marks, I'll with you, would you expect that this was a killer capture mission or kill mission?

MARKS: No, this was a kill or capture. You also reserve the right to the commander on the ground to make the determination with all the risk parameters that are involved to either kill or to capture. So, this is not something that was gone awry. These are contingencies and options that are planned out and rehearsed in great detail. But that commander on the ground has the authority to make that decision.

SMERCONISH: General Hertling, the use of a drone was not utilized in this particular case. What would have been the consideration as to whether you're sending special forces or you're going to try and solve this problem with a drone strike.

HERTLING: I'd likely suggest, Michael, that you actually had drones or UASs systems over the target gathering intelligence before the strike itself. But using a missile from an unmanned system to destroy a target is used in some cases, but in this case, it's, boy, you do that and you're incinerating all the potential intelligence that might be on the scene.

We are talking about an operation in a major headquarters. I mean, this is their financial headquarters, if you will. And, so, you don't want to destroy all that great information that might lead to other sources by just bombing the place. That was one of the decisions not to do, not to bomb the home where Bin Laden was staying in Pakistan.

SMERCONISH: Yes, we should point out for CNN viewers, this is deep within ISIS-controlled territory. So while it might have put less American soldiers at risk to use a drone, as you point out, we would have lost the ability to capture all of that intelligence which will hope will take us to al Bagdadi.

HERTLING: You save a whole lot of lives by doing that and prosecute the war in a much better case by gaining some of that intelligence. Spider is the expert on that. I got to tell you, you fight as an operator, which I was, you fight for intelligence to turn it over to guys like Spider so they can give you more intelligence to get more targets. It is a never-ending cycle of operations and intel.

SMERCONISH: General Marks, what is happening do you think right now with regard to that information that has been seized? What is the drill, what is the process that we would be utilizing?

MARKS: Yes, two things are happening right now. Umm Sayyaf is being interrogated and she's being interrogated in a facility in Iraq probably that's protected and totally isolated and under U.S. control. Iraqis own the outer perimeter, the U.S. on the internal perimeter and all of the information that was captured as a result of that raid is now being exploited, at least immediately exploited and initial triage is taking place to determine if there's targetable intelligence.

In other words, we reserve the right to go back and strike again if we get some intelligence that would indicate that it would be worth the effort to do that, again.

[09:30:07] But there will be much deeper exploitation of that intelligence going forward.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: General Hertling, what will be the success of this raid by forces. How every action sets off a domino effect in the Middle East? What will be some of the repercussions from this?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (R), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: A perfect question, Michael. What I would suggest to you, a lot of media outlets claiming that ISIS is ten feet tall. They're doing all sorts of things. Well, this is an action where, really, they're not so tall, are they?

In fact, you compare an action like this where you strike at an operational headquarters, get a CFO, get a lot of intel with perhaps a suicide bomb truck driving into a headquarters in Ramadi, it is not comparable at all.

There is an indicator that this, this element of ISIL, Daesh, and I will proclaim this proudly are on their way down. They are imploding. They can't control the kind of things they got. They are losing their leaders. They are losing intelligence, and the fight is being taken to them.

Now, the key element that remains to be seen is, can we build an Iraqi security force that will take the fight to them on the ground very quickly and come together under an exclusive government and what will happen in Syria? Those are the two remaining things left to determine and then you'll see all the other organizations that are joining is because they seem to be the big kid in town now start to fall off. This is the beginning of the end, in my view.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, please stay with me. We'll have much more on this successful raid in Syria.

Plus, the latest developments in the deadly Amtrak crash. Investigators now say an object may have hit the train before it derailed. A former CEO of Amtrak will join me.


[09:36:03] SMERCONISH: Welcome back. We'll have more of our breaking news coverage of the raid in Syria.

But, first, to another big story we're following. New developments in the deadly Amtrak derailment. NTSB investigators say the train may have been hit by an object before it flew off the tracks. During an interview with investigators, one of the assistant conductors said she heard engineer Brandon Bostian talking to the engineer of a local commuter train who said his windshield was shot at or hit by a rock. The assistant conductor tells investigators she thought she heard Bostian reply that his Amtrak train has also been struck.

The latest development could turn the investigation on its head. And we are covering every angle of this story and we have a great lineup of guests who can help us better understand all of these developments.

Doug Riddell, he's a former Amtrak engineer, Xavier Bishop is a former Amtrak conductor who worked with Brandon Bastion, and David Hughes is a former chief engineer, president and CEO of Amtrak. He's consulted on rail systems in more than 35 countries.

And I'd like to begin with you, Mr. Hughes. What's your reaction to hearing that one of the conductors said that the engineer made a comment that this train had also been struck?

DAVID HUGHES, FORMER AMTRAK CEO: Well, that's certainly a possibility, Michael. Things like that happen on a regular basis, unfortunately. Trains are stoned, things are dropped from overpasses. Those things happen.

SMERCONISH: Well, do you see a potential causal connection between this train being struck with an object or being fired at successfully and then derailing?

HUGHES: Only that the engineer was distracted from his duties.

SMERCONISH: I mean, what occurred to me as I'm following the chronology, Mr. Hughes, is that if this individual heard a communication between Bostian and someone on another train saying that his train had been struck, that would interrupt a causal connection where he was distracted momentarily because of that object. I hope I'm explaining this well, but you would think that if there were a connection between the two, then something would have hit the windshield and it would have caused him to be distracted instantaneously and there would not be such a phone call.

HUGHES: Well, I just can't speculate about it, Michael. But, certainly, it's -- it's disturbing to hear that that could have happened and it's certainly something that if you were an engineer, it would attract your attention.

SMERCONISH: OK. Like the rest of us, you're trying to figure out what went on in the engine. You have more expertise than the rest of us. What are the range of possibilities?

HUGHES: Well, we know a few things that are facts. One of them is that a minute or so prior to the accident, the speed, the train was operating at a normal speed. A minute before it derailed, it began to accelerate, which means that the throttle had to be, had to be moved. Something during that one minute happened and we don't know what it is. We don't know why the throttle was advanced and we don't know why the engineer didn't respond to keep the train under control.

SMERCONISH: Is it like -- is the throttle like a gas pedal in a car that I drive where you need to keep pressure on it?

HUGHES: No, when you move the throttle to a particular place, it will stay there until you move it, again.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Hughes, I want to put on the screen for our CNN viewers a photograph of the inside of the engine and if you could explain what we are looking at in this photograph it would be helpful.

HUGHES: Sure. On the right, you can see a pedestal with a large red handle on it. That's the air brake for the train. The engineer would advance that to set the brakes and it would be released in a back position.

On the left side of the console, you can see a black, a black leaver standing up, in order to move the train forward from that a stop. Right now, that lever is in neutral position. If the engineer wanted to move the train forward, he would push it down and then push it forward in order to move the train.

Just to the left of the throttle is a red bottom. That is an emergency stop button.

[09:40:01] If the engineer hits that, it will put the train brakes into emergency and shut down power on the train.

SMERCONISH: And then also at the floor, I'm seeing something. It's at the bottom of the screen. What am I looking at?

HUGHES: There are two -- there are two mushroom buttons there, Michael. That would be the dead man control. So, the engineer would have to have his foot on one of those buttons and you see there's a little vertical metal piece between them to prevent putting a heavy object on them and disabling it, so that, you know, the engineer has to use his foot and can't use the tool box or a bag.

SMERCONISH: If each of these items requires attention, the alerter, the dead man's switch, the throttle, might it suggest a deliberate act?

HUGHES: Well, we don't have any information that's on the record to rule that out. So, I just don't know what you say about it. It could be. But I don't see any information one way or the other.

SMERCONISH: Anecdotes about the engineer and social media posts for which he's presumed to be responsible suggest that he was diligent in the way that he approached his job and that via social media, he expressed concerns about the safety of the Amtrak system.

HUGHES: I think he was expressing concerns. Yes, I guess he could express concerns about the Amtrak system and railroads in general.

There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks on the Internet who only have part of the picture. He made a number of allegations, for example, one of them was that the industry has had 100 years to develop a system, but didn't.

Well, the fact is in 2008, the Congress was only able to enact the legislation they did because of research done by private railroads in the 10 years prior to 2008. Except for that research, there would be no technology to implement today.

SMERCONISH: I want it bring in Doug Riddell, and Xavier Bishop.

Xavier, you know Brandon Bostian, and the rest of us don't know the man. What is that we don't know that you do?

XAVIER BISHOP, FORMER AMTRAK CONDUCTOR: I mean, he's a standup individual. I mean, he's very thorough. I was his flagman for the better half of a year.

It was a situation where when he approached the job, he was always on time and always had his paperwork and everything was on point. He didn't come off cocky, and he wasn't in the situation where, I'm a know it all, or whatever is the case -- anything he did not know, he knew the proper people to call in order to get the answers he needed to do his job.

SMERCONISH: He doesn't strike you as the sort of individual who's up in the engine and listening to buds, talking on his phone or engaged in some sort of voluntary distraction?

BISHOP: Absolutely not. Like I said, he's very thorough. He takes his job very seriously and it's just an unfortunate incident.

SMERCONISH: Do you think a rush to judgment in some elements of our society paying attention to this?

BISHOP: Absolutely. I mean, you have to look at it like this. History shows it. When you don't understand something, you're fueled by fear and give you all types of paranoia, you have to look at it like this. Anybody looking at the situation are quick to judge, quick to blame.

I was a conductor. I worked with Brandon personally. So, I was on the inside out. I already know more than the average person would know. You know what I'm saying?

You are going to sit there and you know, you only know what they're going to tell you on the news or whatever the case may be. I know the ins and outs. I know the train run, and all that good stuff.

I worked with Brandon and I am telling you, he is on point. He is not that individual who going to make mistakes like that and he is not going to come off like a I-know-it-all. You know, he's not proud like that. He does what he does and he's very thorough and he's a proud man.

SMERCONISH: In your mind, he is not the kind of guy who would have shown up for work seeking to do harm to anybody on that train?

BISHOP: I mean, no one does. If you really think about it, this man has people's lives in his hands every single day. As a crew, he's an engineer, we're conductors. Our primary objective is to get passengers from point A to point B on a day-to-day basis.

You don't come into work thinking, oh, you know what, I'm just going to derail and I'm going to cause all these problems -- no. When you're in a car, you have a call with two or three other people. These people have their lives in your hands. That is not your intention to take the car and flip it over. That's not going to happen.

SMERCONISH: You would get on a train with him tomorrow if he were the engineer.

BISHOP: Absolutely, because you have to think about it, I got on a train on a day-to-day basis. I put my life in his hand all the time and I still do to this day.

SMERCONISH: Doug Riddell, what significance do you find with the revelations from the NTSB yesterday that an object may have hit this train?

DOUG RIDDELL, FORMER LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEER: It's the piece of the puzzle that I've been missing. I run trains at this distance he did. I run diesels more than -- in fact, I'm not electric qualified. I do know the territory. You -- it disturbed me when I heard at first that he accelerated the train going into a curve. That's not right.

Then the information came out that he left, when he passed North Philadelphia, and I think that's a 65-mile-per-hour speed restriction going up to 80 miles an hour.

Now, engineers don't speed. They do push the envelope. You like to get as much of that 80 mile an hour as you can.

[09:45:02] You pride yourself on going as far into the speed restriction -- the normal speed as possible, and then braking at the proper point. It's almost like getting a three-point with net -- nothing but net when you hit that curve and you're supposed to be at 55 and the needle says you're running 55.

So, when he came out, yes, he accelerated and as Mr. Hughes says, the throttle went out. You tried to get up, take advantage of that 80 miles an hour, you reach that point where you are going to shut off on the throttle and you're going to put on the brake.

Something happened. And yesterday when they said that the windshield might have been compromised, somebody might have thrown something -- I hit everything from bald eagles to deer and I had bricks thrown at my train. It's like an explosion.

You're sitting there in the cab of a locomotive and all of a sudden, you're completely jarred. I think what we have here is a perfect storm. If this is what I think happened. We had a perfect storm. You had an engineer accelerating this train, preparing to get down to 50 miles an hour and suddenly, a brick came, or whatever happened. And he lost concentration for a couple of seconds.

Well, on a corridor where you're running trains 125 to 150 miles an hour as some of the Acela trains do, you're talking a matter of second being the difference between getting your train down and not being able to get it down at all. When you come to that situation that's happened here, you either do one of three things. You do the right thing, the wrong thing or nothing. When you do nothing, it disturbs me.

The possibility that he was distracted and the possibility that he lost his concentration, even if only for a matter of seconds might have been the difference between getting to that point and putting his brake on and dropping the throttle and realizing after a few seconds that he was by the point of, I guess the point of no return you might want to call it. He looks up and you realize that as he's getting ready to go in the 50-mile-per-hour curve. At that point, he realizes there's nothing you can do but to put the train in an emergency.

SMERCONISH: David Hughes --

RIDDELL: Everything I've heard --

SMERCONISH: -- David Hughes -- I was going to say, I would most want to see them, the cell phone record of a timing of a call that he may have had with a SEPTA engineer and, of course, I would want to interview the SEPTA engineer and know what was said in that conversation.

David Hughes, take the final word on this.

HUGHES: Well, whatever happened, Michael, is recorded. All his radio communications are recorded and maintained for just this reason.

SMERCONISH: Doug Riddell, Xavier Bishop, David Hughes, thank you for being here. I wish we had more time, but we have more breaking news that we've got to do, of the coverage of the raid in Syria, deep into ISIS territory. And we'll go there next.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

Breaking news overnight: U.S. Special Operations Forces have killed a senior ISIS commander in Syria. CNN was the first to report the raid in ISIS territory that killed Abu Sayyaf.

I want to bring in CNN military analysts, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, and retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Gentlemen, just to recap, the president authorized this raid. He did

it on the unanimous recommendation of his national security team. U.S. forces captured some communications equipment. That's significant. And we learned earlier this hour from CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, that there's reason to believe that Abu Sayyaf may have been in contact with al Baghdadi.

General Marks, of what significance the killing of this individual?

MARKS: Well, the killing is important, what I think is really significant is the intelligence that we'll be able to derive as a result of this raid. As the CFO of ISIS, I think it's fair to call him that, in charge of all the oil and gas revenue, we're going to be able to dig into all the records, all the documents and figure out what those sources of revenue are. And everyone who is on that list now, needs to have their head on the swivel. Because the United States and our partners have this information it now becomes targetable and we'll follow up very quickly. We need to.

SMERCONISH: General Hertling, the intelligence that we had must have been very secure to enable the president to move forward with the unanimous recommendation of the security team.

HERTLING: Absolutely. Michael. This is one of those things where you generated a lot of intel, you placed it in a target package. Operations, joint special operations command has been watching this target as well as with what they call a fusion cell, which consists of all of the intelligence resources, CIA, DIA, NSA, all the ones that will contribute to a strike like this. And then the time was right, and they took a great deal of risk, but they mitigated those risks, but the rewards, as my friend Spider just said, are going to be significant from this strike.

SMERCONISH: Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is joining us from Beirut now.

Nick, what's been the reaction from overseas?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Limited. And frankly those ISIS followers on Twitter who we've been seeing not really making much out of the loss of Abu Sayyaf, saying that's their target, the quote operation failed.

Let me tell you a little bit more about the place where this occurred, an oil field. Now, according to activists who have seen how that place works, it's a huge complex, very well-fortified. About a three to five-kilometer perimeter around which you can't go near. So, incredibly secure.

And we heard from witnesses, a series of airstrikes began it seems, this operation just after midnight. And then it went what seems to have been U.S. Delta Forces, obviously extraordinarily risky and complex operation.

[09:55:01] Go back, I think to the question Abu Sayyaf's relevance in ISIS. Not a man who we have heard a lot about before. Nabil al- Jabouri is a real name that we're hearing so much of experts for him. Abu Sayyaf is a nom de guerre. It means the father of Sayyaf. Umm Sayyaf, his wife, means the mother of Sayyaf.

So, more detail I think for the White House to put out on the table to explain why they're willing to take this substantial risk. Remember, it seems to be an operation, the aim of which was to capture Abu Sayyaf. Now, look back at the history of ISIS leaders, suicide bombers and the cult of self-extinguishment is so much of their creed and what they do. The idea that perhaps he might just see Delta Force come to the window and say, OK, you guys can take, I think must have been what they're necessarily banking on.

And, of course, Bob has been mentioning the potential links that Abu Sayyaf had with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. We're hearing he was also thought to be close to a spokesperson for ISIS, al-Adnani, it may well be. There's much bigger fish that the White House had their crosshairs on.

SMERCONISH: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for your report.

General Marks and General Hertling, thank you very much.

CNN's continuing coverage of this breaking news in just a moment.