The New York Timesleads with commander of American forces in Afghanistan Gen. Tommy Franks’ revelation in an interview that the United States might create more bases inside Afghanistan to facilitate dispatching soldiers. USA Today’s lead is an order from Taliban leader Mullah Omar to his troops to fight to the death. The Washington Postleads with news that Pakistan is hosting talks between the Taliban and non-Taliban Pashtun leaders to try to avert a bloody end to the Taliban and to reassert its influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan would like a friendly neighbor to balance another neighbor, enemy India, and accordingly it has also begun to meet with the Northern Alliance. The talks between the Taliban and the Pashtun leaders have not been conclusive. The Los Angeles Timeslead reports that the CIA ended days of media speculation by confirming that one of its officers, Johnny Michael Spann, was indeed killed while interrogating captured Taliban when a prison riot in Mazar-i Sharif started. Atop the worldwide news box at the Wall Street Journalis a look at an area of the Afghan White Mountains, which includes the cave complex called Tora Bora, where Osama Bin Laden may be hiding. Other papers have already checked out this region in recent days, and the WSJ has few new details.
USAT quotes Omar: “We are happy that [the Americans] have landed here, and we will teach them a lesson,” the leader said, but as far as the paper reports, he didn’t give his troops any tips on how to go about doing that. It would appear then that Omar survived U.S. strikes on a Taliban leadership compound where he was believed to have been a few days ago. The NYT has the late-breaking detail that U.S. officials are now confident that a number of mid- and upper-level Taliban were in the building when the United States struck. However, a Taliban spokesman said no leaders were hurt and Omar was hurriedly removed from the area just before the strike. No word on what might have tipped him off to the incoming bombers.
Everyone fronts or reefers the CIA agent and notes it is unusual for the CIA to identify an agent killed in action. The NYT speculates that the agency might have done so in this case because it had already been widely reported that a CIA employee had been killed. The papers report that the Northern Alliance thinks the riot really is over, after its soldiers grenaded the last few resisting prisoners.
The NYT lead has a few other details on the future of the military operation. More American and some French attack planes will be sent to Central Asian bases soon. Franks said there is a 50 percent chance he’ll move his headquarters to the region, possibly to Qatar. Officials said this move could mean that the United States plans the next phase of the war against terrorism to take place in that area, with Iraq and Somalia possible targets. The WP and NYT leads report that dozens of conventional U.S. Army troops have been sent to fight lawlessness in Northern Afghanistan.
The papers report from Germany that the second day of negotiations on an Afghan government didn’t go as well as the first seemed to, namely because the Northern Alliance wasn’t enthused about the presence of a foreign peacekeeping force—or a former king—in Afghanistan. Three of the four Afghan factions want the king and the outside peacekeepers, but those factions do not control any territory in the country. The WSJ piece has a more positive interpretation of the negotiations’ second day than the other papers, noting right off that the groups agreed to create an interim council within 30 days. The council in turn would create a cabinet to rule the country until March.
The LAT front reports that the Northern Alliance has captured a popular al-Qaida higher-up, the son of the Blind Sheik, a Muslim cleric incarcerated in the U.S. for plotting to blow up parts of New York. A Bush official called the terrorist a significant catch. The paper has no details on how he was captured, and where he is now, and the CIA wouldn’t confirm the report. There are also unconfirmed reports that he, along with several other al-Qaida militants, would be taken to a U.S. military base in the Pacific, perhaps to meet up with a military tribunal.
Following up on Attorney General Ashcroft’s announcement on Tuesday that he had netted some al-Qaida members in the national potential-terrorist detention program, the NYT fronts some hard numbers on just how many of the detainees may have a relationship with al-Qaida. According to senior federal law enforcement officials, about 20-25 people are believed to be connected to terrorism out of a group of over 600 detainees.
Americans—nearly 90 percent of them—are fine with the administration’s detention campaign. In fact, they are pleased all the way around with the way the administration is hunting terrorists at home according to a WP/ABC poll which the WP off-leads. Seven out of 10 Americans think the U.S. is adequately protecting the civil rights of possible terrorists; about 75 percent think that the government should listen in on conversations between attorneys and suspected terrorists, and nearly 80 percent support the plan to interview 5,000 Middle Eastern men.
The WP runs a front-page look at the difficulties investigators will face when they begin to examine the Leahy anthrax letter, whose spores will float away from scientists and their equipment at the slightest provocation and may take important evidence along with them. The paper notes the scientists have been training to open the letter on a “body double” envelope and describes how many people will be present and where they will be positioned when the letter is opened in the next day or so. But for all its analysis, the piece leaves out one interesting detail that USAT headlines a brief story with: A robot will open the letter.