Today's Papers

The Hills Are Alive

The Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal’s worldwide newsbox lead with the Taliban’s withdrawal from Kandahar and the search for Osama Bin Laden in foothills, mountains, and caves of Tora Bora. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai entered Kandhar for the first time and brokered a deal between warring anti-Taliban factions. The province’s former governor will reassume his old post, and a Karzai appointee will serve as his assistant. In Tora Bora, U.S. planes continued to bomb cave complexes, while an opposition spokesman said Osama Bin Laden is personally commanding 1,000 Taliban fighters there. The Los Angeles Times  fronts the news from the front, but its lead takes stock of the gains made by gay and lesbian politicians in California state government.

The papers all run quotes that play up the daunting task ahead: removing Taliban and al-Qaida soldiers from caves and tunnels, probably through a sustained ground invasion. But how much progress has been made? The WP reports that American airstrikes have accidentally killed 20 anti-Taliban fighters, including three this weekend. The NYT repeats the opposition’s assertion that they have captured half the caves in the region, but says the information can’t be verified. USAT’s report—the only one, besides the LAT, datelined Tora Bora—says anti-Taliban forces have captured several small caves in lower elevations. Four contained weapons; a fifth contained baby food and a tricycle.

USAT’s lead has the best battlefield detail. Historically, Afghan fighting tactics involve gaining a small amount of ground and then quickly falling back, hoping that the enemy eventually surrenders—that’s exactly the strategy on display here. (In scenes replayed “dozens of times a day,” Taliban and anti-Taliban soldiers pop out from behind trees or rocks and yell “Allahu-Akbar” or “God is great.” Then they retreat.) The sides also share a radio frequency. Sample exchange: Anti-Taliban soldier: “This [shell] has your name on it, God willing.” Al-Qaida soldier: “Oh, was that for me? I didn’t notice. I was too busy here with your wife.”

The LAT lead takes a historical look at the rise of gay politicians in California. The numbers: Four lesbians now serve in the 120-member state legislature—they’ve been dubbed the “lavender caucus”—and all have risen to prominent posts. (One cheers, “We’re as big as the Asian American caucus.”) The movement began in earnest in 1991 when then-GOP governor Pete Wilson vetoed legislation that would have protected gays from discrimination in housing and employment. The piece also finds a Republican legislator to throw some cold water: “I like Sheila [Kuehl, the state’s first openly gay legislator]. She’s a nice lady. But I’ll never believe that sort of sexual behavior is acceptable.”

A WP fronter considers the Beltway doomsday scenario: Everyone in the presidential line of succession is wiped out in a terrorist attack. Various experts recommend: adding state governors to the line of succession, authorizing state governors to replace dead or incapacitated representatives (under current law, they can only replace senators), setting up an “eCongress” that would allow members to vote by computer if they couldn’t meet in a single location, and replacing the president pro tempore of the Senate, often the body’s oldest member, in the line of succession with the majority leader.

The NYT fronts (and everyone else stuffs) renewed violence in Israel. Israeli troops shot and killed four Palestinian police officers after the officers responded to an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Anabta. Hours later, a Palestinian suicide bomber in the northern city of Haifa wounded at least seven. Anthony Zinni, the U.S. envoy charged with re-starting peace talks, threatened to leave the country if no progress was made in the next 48 hours.

According to the WSJ, 19 U.S. soldiers have flown to the Phillipines to train government troops battling the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, a group the Bush administrations says has ties to Osama Bin Laden. The Abu Sayyaf have beheaded one American hostage and still hold two more. A Pentagon official calls the Phillipines “an obvious choice” for America’s next stop in the antiterrorism war because it offers a quick victory and is outside the Middle East.