Today's Papers

Let’s Do Launch

Everybody leads with the beginning of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign, yesterday’s air attacks against Afghanistan, conducted by U.S. ship-launched cruise missiles, and carrier- and land-based bombers, and also involving cruise missiles launched from a British submarine. The attacks, which began several hours after nightfall and which focused on suspected terrorist training facilities, airports, and other military and administrative targets, are viewed by the papers as big but more focused and less intense than either of the initial air assaults in the Gulf War or Kosovo (although, reports the Wall Street Journal, more intense than the plan first proposed to and rejected by President Bush). Another difference: The action included air drops of food and medicine to civilians. Several papers note that a Taliban representative called the attack a “terrorist” act. USA Today gives the top half of its front to a shot of a Tomahawk blasting off from a U.S. Navy ship under a quote from President Bush’s nationally televised speech yesterday announcing the strikes: “WE WILL NOT FAIL.”

The papers report that although so far the operation is a U.S./British show, more than 40 countries have supported it, through granting air or basing rights, sharing intelligence, or offering future assistance if called upon. “We are,” said President Bush, “supported by the collective will of the world.”

As everybody notes, Bush’s announcement was countered by the release yesterday of a videotape apparently made before the airstrikes by Osama Bin Laden, in which he thanks God for the destruction of America’s greatest buildings, and in which he calls the resultant suffering “insignificant compared to what we have tasted for scores of years.” Bin Laden said that America won’t dream of security before “we live it in Palestine, and not before all the infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad. …”

The papers try to guesstimate the shape of the military campaign Sunday’s action lifts the curtain on. The Washington Post says this first air phase would likely last two to three days. The WSJ says three to five. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times suggest it could go on for a week. Everybody reports that the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance got a heads-up that the attack was imminent. The LAT says that almost immediately after the airstrikes started, some battles broke out between Taliban and opposition forces. A NYT fronter by Michael Gordon explains that the attacks present the Taliban with a dilemma: Hunker down and let the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance advance, or mount a defense against the NA and become inviting targets for U.S. planes.

The NYT says that after the initial air campaign, Special Forces units will conduct ground operations to gather information and hunt down terrorist leaders. The LAT says the first post-air-move will be to monitor Taliban troop and equipment movements, evaluate the results, and then tell the Northern Alliance to attack. The WSJ says the U.S. hopes the bombing/aid package will “provoke mass desertions from the Taliban,” which will produce information about Bin Laden’s whereabouts. The NYT says that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made it clear in his press conference yesterday that the U.S. was “seeking to orchestrate the overthrow of the Taliban. …”

But the papers also note that President Bush suggested wider goals for his anti-terror campaign with his comment yesterday that “Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader.”

The WSJ and LAT report that according to the Taliban, both Bin Laden and the Taliban leader Mohammed Omar survived the airstrikes. The LAT adds that President Bush didn’t mention Bin Laden by name in his remarks yesterday, which the paper seeks as “suggesting that the White House was seeking to lower expectations of his capture.”

The NYT, WP, and LAT all include reports filed from aircraft carriers that launched strike aircraft. The NYT sees a sign among the Enterprise crew of “extraordinary caution” about possible terrorist reprisals: The ship has adopted a policy of not releasing the last names of those interviewed. The LAT lead says that aboard another carrier, the Carl Vinson, the names were withheld “under Defense Department rules.” The WP says that Vinson personnel cannot be fully identified because of Navy security concerns, but then gives the full name of the ship’s commanding officer. Question: So what is the rule really and who sets it?

In all the reporting from the ships, there is exactly one Navy person quoted as saying that launching the strikes provoked personal sadness–an officer named Sharee, the only woman aboard quoted.

The papers note that yesterday, unlike on Sept. 11, the networks didn’t completely abandon their scheduled programming for the rest of the day to cover developments. The LAT runs a piece going high with a key factor: The Sept. 11 nonstop news programming cost the networks at least $188 million in ad revenue.