Today's Papers

Hide and Sheik

The Los Angeles Timesleads with the Bin Laden trail, which the paper says is growing “fainter.” The New York Times’ lead emphasizes that al-Qaida fighters are making a run for the border, and Osama might be with them. The Washington Post leads with word that “Afghan militia commanders declared victory today.” (Um, didn’t they also declare victory yesterday?) The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with news that U.S. troops have now taken five al-Qaida soldiers into custody (including John Walker and an Australian) and are trying to figure out what to do with them. USA Todayleads with the White House’s announcement that it is “increasingly looking like” the anthrax spores sent in the attacks were made in the United States. Earlier this week, the papers reported that the letter-based anthrax was a genetic match for the strain used by the U.S. Army. But the Army said that doesn’t mean squat. “The strain was shared among researchers in several countries,” explained a spokeswoman.

The NYT says that Afghan troops only met sporadic resistance today, mostly from what the paper describes as “remnants of a rear guard that was largely destroyed by American bombing or had fled.” The Post has a slightly different emphasis, saying high up that fighting has “concluded,” and then a few paragraphs down the paper says that some “stragglers could remain hidden.”

“There are still isolated pockets of al Qaeda fighting in this area, so we’re not done yet,” Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said.

No biggie, said one Afghan commander. “They have lost their ammunition, their confidence and their food.”

One Afghan underling said his commander was just being pessimistic: “The only Arabs left in Tora Bora are the corpses.”

The hunt was like “searching for fleas on a dog,” Stufflebeem said. “If you see one and you focus on that one you don’t know how many others are getting away.”

But just because you’re focusing on one doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. Bin Laden, as Stufflebeem put it, “is still a question mark.”

Señor Stufflebeem, who appears to have had a productive press conference yesterday, said that U.S. troops won’t pursue al-Qaida forces into Pakistan and will leave that job for the Pakistani military.

Mullah Omar, meanwhile, seems to have become a bit more conspicuous: According to an official with the folks ruling Kandahar (the city’s “intelligence chief,” says the Post), Omar is in the mountains about a hundred miles north of the town. “He went there with a lot of vehicles and weapons and approximately 500 men,” said the official.

The NYT says “the press has been denied virtually all access” to the fighting. (Given the amount of conflicting reports ‘n’ such, it would be nice to see an article that examined this issue. For example, can reporters get (or perhaps at this point, could they have gotten) close to the fighting, or are they forced to sit around waiting for the daily competing Afghan commanders’ press conferences?)

The NYT reports, “The U.S. military has admitted that American and British forces have been active on the Tora Bora front lines, and it is widely believed that they have played a leading role.” As Today’s Papers kvetched about yesterday, saying that the commandos “have played a leading role” begs for further explanation. 

Afghan commanders showed off 19 al-Qaida prisoners. The NYT says they were a sorry lot, “their clothes torn, their hair matted, their eyes regretful. They were paraded around like lame horses in a paddock.”

The NYT, in a front-page analysis, says that the U.S. government and Afghan leaders in Tora Bora have  conflicting agendas. “Look, these so-called Eastern Alliance are basically a group of village leaders,” said one unnamed U.S. military person. “The al-Qaida in their area have been driven off. So the battle is basically over from their point of view.”

Britain announced it will begin sending in peacekeeping troops, perhaps as early as this weekend.

The NYT goes above the fold with word that the idea of taking down Saddam Hussein has “gained significant ground among in recent weeks both inside the administration and among some important allies in the Muslim world.” Turkey, apparently, has indicated it wouldn’t object to Saddam getting the boot. The paper says opinions have been swayed by the relative ease of the campaign in Afghanistan.

Israel yesterday briefly detained the PLO’s most senior official in East Jerusalem, Sari Nusseibeh, a philosophy professor and well-respected moderate. The United States called the move “provocative and counterproductive,” the first criticism from America in a while. Meanwhile, Palestinian ambushes wounded three Israelis, while Israeli troops killed three Palestinians. And, finally, Hamas as well as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, another liberal-minded Palestinian group, rejected Arafat’s call to end attacks on Israel.

The papers say that the U.S. government, not convinced that antibiotics are a foolproof defense against anthrax, is considering offering anthrax vaccine—which has some nasty side-effects—to 3,000 people who might have been exposed to the bacteria.

The papers report that gunmen attacked the presidential palace in Haiti. Five people were killed in what the Haitian government said was an attempted coup. But the WSJ notes, “Two Haitian political analysts who asked that their names not be used said the incident might have been orchestrated by the government to shore up support.” In response to the attacks, supporters of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide burned down the headquarters of some opposition political parties.

The NYT says that homelessness is at record levels in major cities across the country as a result of rising unemployment and high housing costs. The paper notes that the survey on which that fact is based was based on data from 27 cities and wasn’t a representative sample of homeless throughout the country.

The WSJ reports on the world’s latest surfing hotspot: Nova Scotia. Apparently nor’easters churn up some kind waves. Of course, those crazy Canucks need to occasionally head back to shore. “I’ll surf until the air temperature drops to minus four degrees,” says one. “At that point, your face muscles freeze.”