Today's Papers

Wider War?

Each of the majors leads with the anti-terror war’s third day. The main development: The bomb and missile campaign has, with its destruction of Taliban missile sites, airplanes, airfields, and command and control facilities, produced total U.S. air supremacy, which means U.S. air forces can now be more aggressive in going after newly discovered stationary targets as well as troops and their weapons on the move. The papers vary a bit in their descriptions of what’s next, though. USA Today’s headline refers to “LIKELY GROUND OPERATIONS.” The New York Times’ says “U.S. SAID TO PLAN COPTER RAIDS IN AFGHANISTAN” in order, says the lead’s opening paragraph, “to find and attack forces allied with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and the Taliban government. …” The Los Angeles Times’ lead is more specific still, referring to government hints that “… GROUND SEARCH FOR BIN LADEN IS NEXT.”

Everybody reports that in a new statement released yesterday by al-Qaida, a spokesman repeated Osama Bin Laden’s Sunday calls for all Muslims to fight the U.S. and his praise for the World Trade Center and Pentagon hijackers, and then threatened more of the same by stating, “The Americans must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, and there are thousands of young people who look forward to death like the Americans look forward to living.”

The leads report that there have to date been no U.S. combat casualties (although the USAT chase edition lead says that a U.S. soldier supporting the airstrikes was critically injured in an accident). The papers note the Pentagon claims it hit 85 percent of its initial targets. The coverage also says that U.N. and other humanitarian officials charge that U.S. warplanes mistakenly bombed the offices of a land mine removal organization, killing four Afghan civilian guards, a contention Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did not confirm although he expressed regret for the loss of life. The Washington Post lead reports that according to U.S. intelligence, two male relatives of the Taliban leader were killed during Sunday’s air raids.

The WP reports that yesterday, when the Pentagon’s top officer was asked if the U.S. will now provide direct tactical air support to anti-Taliban rebels, he was “noncommittal.” The LAT has an Afghan rebel general complaining that this has not happened yet.

The papers are clear that even given the air successes thus far, switching to helicopter-based troop operations will involve more risk, primarily because the lower and slower choppers will be more vulnerable to the Taliban’s U.S.-supplied Stinger man-portable surface-to-air missiles.

The WP lead waits until the 27th paragraph to report that the next phase of military operations “is expected to include the deployment of additional ground forces in Central Asia and the Middle East,” a detail the other leads omit altogether. The NYT does, however, break this out into the paper’s off-lead and gets more specific, citing unnamed U.S. officials saying that future overt and covert U.S. military operations will target Bin Laden-connected terrorists in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The WP fronts another sign of the anti-terror war’s possible expansion: On Sunday the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, personally delivered a warning to Iraq’s senior U.N. envoy: The U.S. would launch military strikes against Iraq if Saddam Hussein tried to assist the anti-American forces in Afghanistan or move against his domestic opponents during the current anti-terror campaign. The story says that on Monday, the Iraqi envoy assured Negroponte that Iraq “had no intention of undertaking military action.”

The NYT and USAT report that Pakistani and Taliban troops engaged in a two-hour firefight as the Taliban forces, apparently in an attempt to escape the U.S.-led air assault, approached the Pakistan border.

The NYT, the WP, and the LAT front the friction emerging between the White House and Congress over the Bush administration’s recent decision, out of a concern for leaks to the press, to limit classified war-related briefings to only eight members of Congress.

USAT and the Wall Street Journal front the Florida tabloid anthrax case. USAT quotes a source saying that investigators believe anthrax spores were planted in the tabloid building after Sept. 11. The main news of the Journal piece is that an anthrax exposure at Boca Raton couldn’t by itself deliver anthrax nationwide via tabloids because the papers are actually printed at eight plants outside of Florida. Yet signs of spreading bioterror jitters are evident in the LAT’s report that part of Washington, D.C.’s subway line was shut down after an apparently unstable man who shot at a transit cop also spilled the contents of a plastic spray jar, and that in Kentucky about 1,000 people were locked inside an IRS service center and seven employees were rushed to the hospital after a package containing white powder turned up in the mail room. The liquid turned out to be cleaning fluid, and the powder turned out to be harmless.

USAT’s front-page “cover story” says that while World Trade Center widows are coping, they’re also furious. A 39-year-old woman whose late husband was a partner at the devastated bond firm of Cantor Fitzgerald asks the reporter, “How many people had to screw up on Sept. 11 for something like this to happen?”

The WSJ passes along a dust-up in Great Britain: An hour after the Sept. 11 attacks, a top aide to Britain’s transportation secretary sent out an e-mail to colleagues advising, “It’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury.”

“Two hours straight of ‘Danke Schoen,’ and that turbaned SOB will come out with his hands up.”USAT reports that a new USO road show for entertaining the troops is being planned. The emcee role, played for eons by the ailing Bob Hope, will be filled by Wayne Newton.