Today's Papers

The Taliban’s Last Afghanistand?

Everybody leads with the entry of hundreds of Marines into Afghanistan, the first large contingent of U.S. ground forces sent into the country. Up to 1,500 troops are expected to land by tomorrow. The Marines didn’t hold a press conference announcing their intentions, but plenty of anonymous sources told reporters that the soldiers are there to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaida troops, including The Evil One. The Marines, who were sent in on helicopters, immediately secured an airbase just 12 miles from Kandahar. Transport planes filled with armored vehicles, troops, and supplies are scheduled to begin landing tomorrow.

The Marines are more heavily armed than the U.S. commandos who have been operating in Afghanistan. As Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld mentioned last week, these particular Marines are “special operations capable.” In other words, they’re prepared for unpleasant tasks like crawling into caves and fortified buildings. They could also be used to secure additional airbases for more U.S. troops to land.

Everybody fronts a prison revolt by hundreds of Taliban near Mazar-i-Sharif and news that an American appears to have been killed. Exactly what happened is still murky, but the Pentagon says, and the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and USA Todayreport, that the Taliban smuggled arms into the prison. But according to the Washington Postand the Wall Street Journal, who cite a report by a Time magazine correspondent who was at the scene, the prisoners overpowered some guards, got access to a bunch of AK-47s, and took control of the fort where they were being held.

The Pentagon denied that any U.S. soldiers had been hit, but no-commented a report that the casualty was a CIA agent. The agency also refused to talk. USAT, though, gives the most detail on who this person might have been: “The American killed was a military contractor with the CIA but not a government employee.”

U.S. and British commandos oversaw the counterattack, called in U.S. airstrikes and, according to Time, conducted a rescue mission of some Americans trapped in the prison. Taliban soldiers, meanwhile, didn’t fare very well in the fighting. “They were all killed and very few were arrested,” said a Northern Alliance spokesperson.

The papers note that that outcome isn’t going to make Pakistan happy, and thus the Pentagon tried to downplay the death toll. (, by the way, has, by far, the most vivid and detailed dispatch from the scene of the revolt. One note: The reporter filed early yesterday morning, and his report that a U.S. soldier was killed may be inaccurate.)

The Northern Alliance, meanwhile, say that they now control what was the Taliban’s last remaining city in the north. “Kunduz has fallen completely to our troops,” said an alliance general. “We now control every part of the city.” The papers all add a grain of a salt and say that the alliance’s claim can’t be confirmed. (The LAT accurately sources news of the advance to the Northern Alliance, but omits such skepticism from its headline: KUNDUZ FALLS.)

The NYT reports that Pakistan had been sending planes into Kunduz to pull out Pakistani Taliban, until, that is, the Northern Alliance captured the city’s airport. The Times notes suggestively, “It would be difficult for Pakistani planes to approach Kunduz without attracting the notice of American warplanes and radar surveying the skies over Afghanistan.” Both Pakistan and the United States deny the existence of such rescue missions.

The papers report that Pashtun tribal groups fought with Taliban troops near Kandahar and seized a key roadway junction. The Pashtun fighters are heading towards the city, although it’s considered unlikely that the poorly armed group will conquer it. USAT says the Taliban also aren’t doing so well in Kandahar itself: “People arriving in Pakistan from Afghanistan’s second-largest city described it as largely deserted and slipping into lawlessness as Taliban forces left.”

The Northern Alliance announced that another senior al-Qaida commander has died. Juma Namangani moonlighted as head of an Islamic separatist group in Uzbekistan. According to the alliance, he was wounded two weeks ago in Mazar-i-Sharif and died a few days ago in an Northern Alliance hospital.

Everybody except the NYT fronts a Massachusetts company’s announcement that they have created the first cloned human embryo. Scientists at the company (named Advanced Cell Technology, for you stock trader types) say they have no intention of actually cloning humans. Instead, they say that their goal is to grow the embryos for a few days in order to harvest embryonic stem cells, which offer significant possibilities for treating illnesses. The Post says that the experiment “breaks new ethical ground by creating the beginnings of a human being from a single parent.” (Today’s Papers is aware of the potential drawbacks of asexual reproduction. But given that we live in an age of anonymous sperm donors, it would have appreciated another sentence explaining why this is an ethical issue.) The paper also reports that the approach has raised “concerns because it would require the creation of human embryos with the sole intent of destroying them.”

Count the Bush administration among the concerned. “The president has made it clear that he is opposed to any type of human cloning,” said a White House spokesperson.

Some critics, though, said their beef wasn’t so much with the ethics surrounding the experiment as with what they saw its iffy science. The announcement was “nothing but hype,” said one scientist who pointed out that the company has yet to reveal any details of its experiment.

The NYT stuffs an analysis of caves in Afghanistan. The Times says that one of Bin Laden’s most formidable hideouts featured “a bakery, a hotel with overstuffed furniture, a hospital with an ultrasound machine, a library, a mosque, weapons of every imaginable stripe”—at least that’s what it had back in the 1980s, when it was “originally built as a depot and military base for American-financed supplies.”