The Washington Postleads with the search for Bin Laden. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said American commandos have been overseeing the hunt, but he also said that the U.S. will rely on Afghans to search the most dangerous hiding places, caves. (The Post waits until the 11th graph to say that U.S. troops will stay cave-free.) The Los Angeles Timesleads with Rumsfeld’s statement that he opposes any sort of deal for Taliban or al-Qaida fighters trapped in Kandahar and Kunduz. “My hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner,” said Rummy. The New York Timesleads with word that alliance officials told a U.S. envoy that they’re copasetic with the idea of sharing power in a future Afghan government. Still, there are plenty of potential conflicts at the coming meeting. The Wall Street Journaltops its worldwide newsbox with the Taliban’s “increasingly desperate struggle” to maintain control of Kandahar and Kunduz. Citing anonymous military officials, USA Today’s lead headlines: MARINES TO JOIN THE HUNT.
That depends on what you mean by hunt. As already noted, Rumsfeld said the Pentagon doesn’t have immediate plans to send U.S. troops into any hideouts. (The LAT, by the way, takes the clearest stand on this. Its subhead reads, “No American soldiers’ lives will be risked in a cave-to-cave quest, Rumsfeld says.”) Nor does USAT have a single quote supporting the thesis that Marines are about to join the chase. This is the second day in a row the paper has swung and missed on a front-page story.
Rumsfeld said that the U.S. plans to “incentivize a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves.” The plan is simple and is already being broadcast over Afghanistan and dropped in leaflets:
“Attention people of Afghanistan! Up to $25 million reward is being offered for information leading to the location or capture of Osama bin Laden or Aiman al-Zawahiri.”
The papers skip the “up to” part and translate the offer as a flat $25 million.
The LAT does the best job of explaining the developing hunting strategy. The Pentagon will leave the tough work to anti-Taliban forces and “local bounty-hunters,” while the U.S. will use high-tech tools like thermal and gas imaging to get clues. “If we go searching cave to cave we’re going to get people killed in large numbers on a wild goose chase,” said one Pentagon official. “We don’t need to. We can sustain this. We can do this forever.”
The papers front word that Afghan gunmen ambushed and killed four journalists yesterday, two Europeans, one Australian, and one Pakistani. The journalists’ bodies haven’t been recovered, but witnesses say they saw them being shot. According to one eyewitness, before one of the gunman fired, he shouted, “What did you think? It’s the end of the Taliban? The Taliban are still here!”
The Post says that while the Northern Alliance has dropped its demand that any meeting about a future government be held in Kabul, they still haven’t formally agreed to attend the gathering, now likely to be held in Germany.
The WP says that Northern Alliance commanders, perhaps getting used to having Kabul all to themselves, are touchy about plans for a peacekeeping force in the city. The result is that both Britain and France have delayed plans to send in thousands of peacekeepers. The NYT says that if peacekeepers don’t enter the city quickly and thus alliance soldiers stay in the capital, Pakistan and several Pashtun leaders may refuse to join the upcoming meeting. Pakistan may even threaten to ban American planes from its airspace. (The NYT explains Pakistan’s issue: “The Northern Alliance—backed by Pakistan’s traditional enemy, India, and two of India’s allies, Iran and Russia—is regarded as little more than an enemy at the gate.”)
The papers front Secretary of State Powell’s announcement that the U.S. will now press for a settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Powell said he would immediately send an envoy and would “push and prod” the sides to first achieve a cease-fire then work a permanent settlement.
In the first installment of prodding, Powell’s speech had harsh words for both sides. “The Palestinian leadership must arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts,” said Powell. “Palestinians need security, as well. Too many innocent Palestinians, including children, have been killed or wounded. This too must stop.”
The WSJ has a fascinating narrative story about the CIA’s work with Albanian authorities to take down a terrorist cell in that country. According to Albania’s former president, his country’s anti-terrorism unit was “trained by the CIA, chaired by the CIA and run by the CIA.” The article says the campaign against the terrorists was nasty (it included kidnapping and torture). And effective. It crushed the al-Qaida cell.
Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, writes an op-ed piece in today’s WP arguing that the pan-Arab support for Bin Laden was really just a myth: “In a swath of 21 countries, from North Africa to the Persian Gulf, here’s how many anti-American demonstrations have taken place [since the war began]. Week one: nine; week two: three; week three: one; week four: two; week five: zero; last week: one.”
Zakaria then says that this lack of enthusiasm means Arab dictatorships such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be so afraid: “You don’t need to pander to the extremists or to kill them and maintain a police state. You can battle them politically.”
See ya at the mall … The Post stuffs a wire story noting that Johnny and Luther Htoo, better known as those wacky preteen brotherswho led the Army of God in Burma, have a new struggle. The boys, who surrendered to Thai authorities last year, are in their final round of interviews with State Department officials in order to be resettled in the U.S.