Today's Papers

Grounding the Troops

The  New York Times and the  Los Angeles Times  lead with (and the  Washington Post  prominently fronts) the latest from Afghanistan, where commandos on the ground raided the headquarters of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, who was not on the premises at the time. The mission–the first fighting on the ground–was considered a success, however. A military airfield was also attacked and intelligence was gathered from both sites. The WP leads with the CIA’s mandate–from President Bush–to do “whatever is necessary” to kill Osama Bin Laden.

Over 100 Army Rangers and other U.S. commandos parachuted into Omar’s complex, located near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, according to the NYT. They met with only “light resistance.” It’s not entirely clear what the mission accomplished–or what its aims were. It was referred to as a “stinging jab” in a separate NYT news analysis “We did not expect to find significant Taliban leadership at these locations,” Gen. Richard Myers says in the NYT.  Papers containing information about Taliban operations were found. The NYT says the taking of the airfield was meant to be “confidence building” for the troops. They left behind letter-size sheets of paper with the words “Freedom Endures” above a picture of firemen raising the flag at the World Trade Center. Will the Taliban be returning to the airfield to see the photos?

The WP leads with a rambling account of CIA doings at home and abroad. The agency was told, in an order signed by President Bush last month, to do “whatever is necessary” to kill Osama Bin Laden. “Lethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway,” says an unidentified “senior official.” The Post calls it the “most sweeping and lethal covert action since the founding of the agency in 1947.” The word “lethal” goes undefined in the piece. Left similarly vague are the “high-risk operations” the CIA has been asked to undertake. A few words from an expert on these sorts of matters would have been helpful.

The story then goes stateside with the CIA’s “Threat Matrix,” a long list of potential domestic terrorist targets that is distributed to members of the intelligence community and the Bush administration on a daily basis. The trick, of course, is in knowing which threats to take seriously. “If you scare the hell out of people too often, and nothing happens, that can create problems,” says Dick Cheney. “Then when you do finally get a valid threat and warn people and they don’t pay attention, that’s equally damaging.” Only the most credible threats are included in the Matrix and then only the cream of that rancid crop is passed on to the public–such as on Oct. 11, when the agency put out a national alert. The story goes on from there–to a short, colorful history of CIA bungling, for example–but that’s the idea.

Everybody fronts the House mailroom–the latest anthrax locale. The House was scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday and may still do so, possibly in another location, according to the WP. The mailroom is located in a House office building and not in the Capitol itself. Meanwhile, investigations continue in Trenton, N.J., where three anthrax letters apparently originated.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes the LAT and WP fronts, as Israel expands its military campaign in the West Bank. Eight Palestinians were killed in Bethlehem, “a few paces from the traditional site of Jesus’ birth,” according to the LAT. Israeli incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas are usually brief, but this one may not be so. “We plan to stay,” says an Israeli army officer. Israeli officials are demanding that Yasser Arafat turn over those responsible for the killing of an Israeli Cabinet minister on Wednesday.

The NYT goes inside with the detainees hauled in in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Following up on more than 365,000 tips, federal officials have arrested a whopping 830 people and have yet to find any evidence linking any of them to the attacks. Most are being held on immigration or traffic violations or for falsifying documents–charges no doubt sending a shiver down the spines of civil rights advocates. “But the arrests have a purpose beyond the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks: to prevent more attacks,” says the Times. Ten al-Qaida members who might have been planning future terrorist acts have been captured.

The LAT fronts the thirst for information about Islam and Afghanistan since Sept 11. “What is their book, the one like the Bible?” a woman asks a clerk in a California bookstore. People are buying atlases so they can locate Afghanistan on a map. They’re studying Arabic suddenly–and taking the Foreign Service Exam. At UCLA, 50 new seminars have been created to meet student interest. “Subjects range from a look at America’s role as the world’s only superpower to case studies of militant Islam in Uzbekistan and Sudan.” “That’s gratifying,” says a Foreign Affairs editor, “but you wish there were a less depressing way for Americans to have to consider the outside world.”