All the papers lead with yesterday’s announcements of the first overseas deployments of U.S. aircraft and naval forces in response to last week’s terror attacks. USA Today calls these movements–a carrier battle group leaving Virginia yesterday, a Marine amphibious group leaving North Carolina today, and the deployment yesterday of Air Force fighters and bombers–“the first concrete evidence of war preparations.” The Washington Post off-lead reports that some of those planes are going to the former Soviet Republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. (The story notes an advantage the Pentagon sees in basing planes there: They’ll be out of the sight of CNN.) The coverage says that administration sources stress that these moves signal only the beginning of the U.S. military response, which, it is reported, is code-named “Infinite Justice.” Tonight President Bush will address Congress and the American public, discussing, the papers say, in broad terms only the case against Osama Bin Laden and the U.S. military response against him and his terror network, as well as various steps the government is taking to stimulate the economy, stabilize the airlines, and improve airline security. Several papers note that sources say Bush will not announce any immediate military strikes. The Wall Street Journal, which tops its front-page worldwide news box with the developments, notices a practical reason why action probably won’t come all that quickly: The pope arrives in Kazakhstan this weekend.
The fronts note that Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf gave a televised speech to his country urging his people to support his decision to help the U.S. in its military actions against Bin Laden. Although the WP and New York Times say no firm deal has yet been made with Pakistan, they make it pretty clear that Musharraf is on his way to winning the lifting of the economic sanctions imposed on Pakistan for its development and testing of a nuclear arsenal. The WSJ says that in return Pakistan has indicated it will give the U.S. access to fuel, intelligence, and airspace, although it still has not formally agreed to accept U.S. ground troops. And the WP reports that according to the Russian foreign minister, one of many foreign players in town this week to consult with Bush and other senior administration officials, Russia has already shared mission-related intelligence information with the U.S. The NYT emphasizes that there are some things some members of the emerging anti-Bin Laden coalition won’t do: President Chirac of France made no commitment of military forces to Bush when the two met earlier this week, and ditto for the Russian foreign minister in his White House meeting yesterday.
The Los Angeles Times lead notes that yesterday, Attorney General Ashcroft suggested that U.S. retaliation would “go far beyond Afghanistan” (the paper’s words), but that subsequently an unidentified White House official tried to downsize the remark by claiming that Ashcroft “intended his comment to refer to foreign governments being involved in terrorism in general, not in [last week’s] attack in particular.” And the official tells the paper that it’s not true that the U.S. is planning to target Saddam Hussein.
But the WP’s Thomas Ricks, who has been out in front all week on the Pentagon’s plans, reports that the strategy contemplated is that commando forces would stage attacks against suspected terrorist hide-outs–“in Afghanistan and possibly elsewhere”–and then airstrikes would be directed against them as they’re forced to move to more vulnerable locations.
The NYT says on its top front that at the highest levels Bush administration advisers are quarreling over this “and elsewhere” issue. The paper says DOD’s No. 2 Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, are among those taking the line that the U.S. initial response should include strikes against Iraq, while Colin Powell has urged a course that focuses strictly on Afghanistan for now.
Recent press accounts have stated that when the FBI went to the INS to keep out of the U.S. two men with Osama Bin Laden connections who ultimately ended up as hijackers last week, they were told they were too late–the pair had already entered the country. And now comes the LAT front with word that after the INS strikeout, the feds failed to tell the airlines that the two men were suspected terrorists.
There are two interesting counterexamples in the sheets to the media’s emerging conventional wisdom about Osama Bin Laden. 1) Against the suggestion that an obvious part of the answer to the OBL threat is for law enforcement authorities to more aggressively go after his finances, a WSJ front feature observes a real problem based on the known low-ball expenses of the hijackers and other previous Bin Laden operatives: They don’t cost much. Two of the hijackers, the paper reports, spent their last week sharing a $250-a-week room, doing their own laundry in the place’s $1-a-load washing machine. 2) Against the observation that Afghanistan confutes conventional military strategy because it contains little of the sort of high-value infrastructure that military campaigns target–an observation made again today on the NYT editorial page by ex-Afghanistan hand Philip Taubman–the Times’ William Safire responds in effect, oh yeah, how about those 20 transmitting towers the Taliban uses to keep spewing out anti-American hatred?