Today's Papers

Osama: Where Art Thou?

The New York Timesand the Washington Postlead with the surrender talks in the city of Kunduz, the lone Taliban holdout in northern Afghanistan. The Post deals with the various wrinkles of negotiating a surrender between so many different ethnicities and agendas. The NYT does much of the same, but gets to the analysis bit after airing the Northern Alliance’s allegations that Pakistan is evacuating its own nationals from the besieged city. Israel’s assassination of a Hamas commander in the West Bank finds its way to a Los Angeles Timeslead and a WP fronter.

The Northern Alliance alleges that Pakistani airplanes have flown into Kunduz and airlifted Pakistani soldiers fighting for the Taliban, according to the NYT lead. While the United States has claimed that it wants all foreign fighters captured or killed, it has been “evasive” on the subject of Pakistani aerial evacuations. And the Pakistani government has declined to comment, notes the Times. Still no one other than the Northern Alliance has confirmed the evacuations.

Lower down in the story, the Times picks up on some of the backbiting within the Northern Alliance. Some factions have accused Alliance commander General Abdul Rashid Dostum of letting 50 pickup trucks full of foreigners to leave Kunduz.

The NYT also reports that as many as 800 American Special Operations troops are now conducting missions from Pakistani bases. While the bases were originally to be used for search and rescue missions, the Special-Ops troops will attempt to find and kill bin Laden and other Al Qaeda stragglers.

The Post lead focuses on the Northern Alliance’s decision not to enter Kunduz.  House to house fighting would fill the street with blood and the Post suggests that the Northern Alliance is dead set on avoiding this outcome.  But the terms of surrender as well as the various factions that would be party to that surrender is a complicated matter. One hitch is that many of the Afghans fighting for the Taliban are ready to lay down arms while many of the foreigners amongst them are less willing to do so. And the Alliance may not even know what it’s up against, as its officials estimate the number of Taliban troops in Kunduz at 10,000 to 20,000. Commanders also claim that more than half of the troops in Kunduz are non-Afghans: Pakistani, Arab, Uzbek, Chechen and other foreigners. Pentagon officials rate the Taliban’s strength at Kunduz between 2,000 and 3,000.

After meeting with Pakistan’s president, General Musharraf, Britain’s foreign secretary said, “Our position is very straightforward, that is, that if people are ready to surrender, then the surrender should be accepted.” Amidst rumors of reprisal killings, the Post quotes a U.N. official as saying, “We are deeply concerned about the current situation. There are a number of worrying reports emanating from parts of Afghanistan.” 

All throughout the country, non-Afghan fighters have vowed that they will fight to the death, rather than surrender. In southern Afghanistan, the Taliban continued to hold its principal stronghold of Kandahar, where the militia’s leader, Mohammad Omar, was reported to have left. The NYT floats the rumors that bin Laden is in Tora Bora, a mountainous region some forty miles from Jalalabad.

The question of bin Laden’s whereabouts merits a front-page story for the LAT. While bin Laden is thought to have abandoned his mud domicile in the town of Jalalabad four year ago, there are reports that he has returned at least once since the terrorist attacks on September 11. The LAT quotes Mohammed Nawab, (“a portly, nervous moujahedeen commander who now guards the compound”) as saying “he came here after Sept. 11, just before the bombing strikes began. He left with his family and the other Arabs.” These tales must be taken with a grain of salt, the LAT seems to suggest as “local pride appears to be involved in claims that the world’s most-wanted man has chosen to secret himself in a favorite nearby hideaway.”

The LAT leads and the WP and NYT front news that Israeli forces killed a top commander in the radical Islamic group Hamas. Mahmoud Abu Hanoud had survived so many assassination attempts before that he earned the nickname “the unkillable man.” This time, his luck ran out when his taxi came under rocket fire from Israeli helicopter gunships. Initially, an Israeli spokesman would not admit to the direct targeting of Hanoud, saying only “if this was, indeed, Hanoud, then it is very significant that one of the arch-terrorists who was sending suicide bombers is no longer with us.” After this initial response, Israeli officials confirmed his death, enumerating the terrorist acts for which they believe he was responsible.

The Post points out that in the last 14 months of violence, Israel has killed more than 50 Palestinians as part of its policy to assassinate terrorists.  It also tabulates that since Sept. 11, Israel has killed more than 160 Palestinians, and Palestinians have killed nearly 20 Israelis. Why doesn’t the Post provide figures for the entire 14-month period?

Everyone notes that the missile attack came only a few days after a mysterious explosion killed four Palestinian schoolboys. The boys may have walked into an Israeli booby trap or they could have stumbled onto an unexploded bomb. An investigation is pending, but privately Israeli officials are calling it a tragic mistake. “If something is awry on our side, then all the masks must be removed, and perhaps someone needs to stand judgment if he acted improperly or with recklessness,” the LAT quotes one Israeli minister.

The WP fronts and the LAT reefers news that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will stand trial on charges of committing genocide during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. He will be the first head of state to be tried for genocide.

In other judicial news, Spain will not extradite any of the eight suspected terrorists it has captured unless the United States agrees to try them in a civilian court and not the military tribunals suggested by President Bush, according to a NYT fronter. One unnamed European Union official said he doubted that any of the 15 nations—none of which have the death penalty—would agree to any extraditions that involved the possibility of a military trial. The paper suggests that the issue of extradition will test international cooperation, as well as, support for Bush. “Military trials would be the worst of all possible worlds if you wanted to get people back from Europe,” the Times quotes one British human rights lawyer.

A WP fronter tries to pin down the number of American Muslims. With figures ranging from 1.5 to 7 million, this is a difficult—and inherently political—task. “It’s not about numbers; it’s about truth and accuracy,” says the executive director of the American Jewish Committee. He continues, “if a group born yesterday suddenly says it has 8 million members, that has societal consequences. If it’s true, God bless them. If not true, do we go with the manufactured number?” But some Muslim advocates are questioning this numbers game. “Why are they worried about our numbers? What’s it triggering?” asks the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Shop ‘til you Drop: All three papers run stories on the biggest shopping day of the year.  The Post takes a local angle, observing that nearly 10,000 parking spaces were filled at an area shopping center. Even so, the Post detects a general gloom and consumer uncertainty and caution; optimism is not in the air. The NYT takes a look at some of the merchandizing ploys unleashed this year. Even though “Post-Thanksgiving giveaways are now part of the holiday landscape,” the effort has been refined and redoubled. Roughly 15 percent more merchandise is being marked down this year, according to one shopping analyst. The LAT also analyses these merchandizing strategies and, in addition, takes a stab at the shopper’s psyche and the national mood with this headline “Meaning, Materialism Meet at Mall.”

Meaning? Malls?