Today's Papers

National Missile Offense

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with the increasingly intensive bombing campaign over Afghanistan. Nearly 100 planes struck targets yesterday. By comparison, roughly 30 planes were used each day last week. The New York Times, USAToday, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide news box all lead with the discovery that the letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle contained premium anthrax. The NYT goes high with a government official’s observation that the particles were “so tiny that they could spread through the air without detection,” and cause pulmonary anthrax. USAT goes a step farther, headlining, “Anthrax May Be Weapons Grade.” It cites a former U.N. weapons inspector who said (on Nightline) that only a handful of the world’s scientists are capable of creating what was in the letter.

The papers focus on the similarities between the letter sent to Sen. Daschle and the one sent to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw. Both packages contained the same New Jersey postmark, as well as similar writing and messages, including “Allah is great.” Investigators urged people not to read too much into that.

Citing a congressional official, the NYT says that the government received  “some intelligence warnings last week that packages would be sent to important places and people.”

Capital police closed a wing of the Senate office while they swept for evidence of anthrax. Officials emphasized that, so far, nobody in the capital has tested positive for anthrax.

The manufacturer of Cipro, the main antibiotic used to treat the disease of the day, says it is tripling production of the drug. But it also acknowledged that even with the increase it might not be able to meet the new panic-driven demand. The NYT, meanwhile, emphasizes that though Cipro is the only drug approved to treat anthrax, scientists believe that some other antibiotics, including penicillin, work just as well.

Many of yesterday’s air attacks aimed to help the Northern Alliance’s advance on the strategically located city of Mazar-e Sharif. Northern Alliance troops are close to taking the city’s airport. The papers note that U.S. commandos could use the airport as a base. 

The WSJ’s story on the strikes focuses on a tidbit that the other majors reported yesterday: The U.S. is now using slow-moving AC-130 gunships over Afghanistan. Many media outlets–including today’s WSJ–have reported that the AC-130s are often used in conjunction with special operations soldiers and thus signal the arrival of ground troops. But the WP cites Pentagon officials saying that hasn’t happened yet. (The WP doesn’t mention that defense officials have said they won’t necessarily reveal–and could even fib–when special operations soldiers are on the ground.) 

The WSJ reports that Germany is preparing to send its military into Afghanistan. “I believe that we will soon have to give more extensive help in fighting terrorism, with our military capabilities as well,” said Germany’s Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.  

The papers highlight the increasing difficulty of delivering aid to Afghans, especially worrisome since winter is approaching. Yesterday a bomb hit a Red Cross food depot, slightly injuring one worker. “It is now evident that we cannot, in reasonable safety, get food to hungry Afghan people,” said the president of one aid organization.

On the diplomatic front, the WSJ reports that the Bush administration is getting anxious about the lack of an appropriate coalition to take over Afghanistan. “The reality is that after all this bombing no senior Taliban leaders are defecting. And the reason is that there is at present no entity to which the Taliban can defect to,” one diplomat said.

The WSJ and NYT observe–a day late–that Secretary of State Powell has said the U.S. wouldn’t object to having some “moderate” Taliban joining a future Afghan government. In a potential rift, the Northern Alliance’s foreign minister said his group won’t work with any such members.

The WP stuffs word that investigators are considering the possibility that only a handful of the highjackers actually knew they were on a suicide mission. One source told the Post that that some of the terrorists were carrying possessions that suggested they were preparing for jail, not death. Many terrorism experts say they don’t buy the theory.

The WSJ goes inside (meaning no reefer on the front page) with a report on the problem of keeping nukes out of terrorists’ hands: “Efforts to make nuclear materials more secure have been hampered by tight budgets, geopolitical squabbling and inertia.” The article quotes one senior former Department of Energy consultant who says that Army units posing as terrorists successfully infiltrated U.S. nuclear weapons plants “well over 50 percent” of the time. In one case, the mock terrorists used a garden cart to haul away nuclear material.

The NYT reefers a piece about a missed opportunity to catch the hijackers before they attacked. Last year, two of the terrorists stalled a small plane on the runway at Miami International Airport, left the plane on the tarmac, and then walked away. One fact the Times doesn’t mention: This incident has already been widely covered, including in the WSJ a month ago.