Today's Papers

Band on the Run

The New York Timesleads with the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and other members of al-Qaida. The paper reports that “dozens” of U.S. commandos have entered Afghanistan in the past few days and many are searching a “narrowing band” of mountains near the border with Pakistan. USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Postall lead with news that the Northern Alliance has agreed to attend a meeting of Afghan opposition groups somewhere outside the country. Previously the Northern Alliance had been calling for the meeting to be held in Kabul, a no-no for the international community. The meeting will now be somewhere in Europe and could happen as early as this week. The Wall Street Journal’s worldwide news box splits its top slot between word of the meeting and news that significant numbers of Taliban may be trying to strike a deal to wiggle out of the besieged city of Kunduz. The NYT adds detail saying that Afghan Taliban want to surrender but that thousands of foreign troops don’t and have become so paranoid about defections that they’ve been massacring local Taliban. “The foreigners came into the village and shot all the men,” said one resident. “I saw this with my own eyes.” The U.S., meanwhile, has kept bombing the city.

U.S. officials were psyched about the Northern Alliance’s newly accommodating position. “Things are now starting to move on the diplomatic front rather well,” said Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Still, it’s going to be hard to get all the sides to agree on the makeup of a coalition. In fact, says the NYT,“Simply choosing who gets a seat at the table could prove difficult.” The NYT and WSJ say that the best way to ensure harmony is for the U.S. and other countries to emphasize that aid (read: cash) will only be given to a central, yet representative authority. 

The U.N. is anxious to get the meeting started ASAP. “This meeting has to happen in days, not weeks. There is a real worry about a consolidation of power by the Northern Alliance,” said one diplomat.

In other words, says the NYT (in remarkably harsh language for a news article), “The galaxy of warlords who tore Afghanistan apart in the early 1990’s and who were vanquished by the Taliban because of their corruption and perfidy are back on their thrones, poised to exercise power in the ways they always have.”

The article specifically suggests keeping an eye out for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, “the most brutal of a generally brutal group.” In the mid-1990s, Hekmatyar had a spat with other commanders, and thus decided to level Kabul, killing about 25,000 of it residents. He may be on his way back to the capital.

With all this new Afghan government talk, U.S. government officials warned against getting too giddy. “It’s terrific that the Northern Alliance has had the successes that it’s had,” said Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser. “But this mission will not be complete until we have broken up this al-Qaida network.”

“We think Bin Laden is still in Afghanistan,” said Powell. “There aren’t many countries around Afghanistan that would welcome him, or for that matter, any country in the world, with one or two exceptions.” (So what might those exceptions be? The papers don’t say, but the Associated Press says Somalia and Yemen.)

USAT off-leads with a report that “Defense Department strategists are building a case for a massive bombing of Iraq” and that it needn’t be contingent on connecting Iraq to Sept. 11. The article’s evidence, though, is flimsy: two quotes, neither of which mention bombings and only one of which is specific to Iraq.

The papers report that Spain arrested eight suspected members of al-Qaida last week. According to the judge who ordered to the arrests, the men “were directly related with the preparation and development of the attacks perpetrated by the suicide pilots on September 11.” If that’s true, it could be a huge breakthrough in the investigation. All eight denied the charges.

The WP fronts news that the Red Cross has been busted six times in the past 10 years for misleading donors, which is just what seems to have happened with funds from the World Trade Center attacks. “They got caught big-time in New York because it was big-time money, but it was the same pattern” elsewhere, says one critic.

In an “Editorial Observer,” the NYT notes that the U.S. is trying to “revivify Afghanistan’s tribal structure to make it work in a democratic context.” One American diplomat wonders whether we know what we’re doing: “We haven’t been inside the country for 10 years, so we have to rely on the Afghans who come to the West. We don’t know the tribes right now. We don’t know the tribal leadership. We don’t know beans.”

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