Today's Papers

Will Yasser Yes Sir?

The Los Angeles Timesand USA Todaylead with the United States’ accidental bombing of its own troops, which killed three U.S. soldiers and injured 20 others. Five Afghans also were killed, and a number were injured, including Hamid Karzai, who just was named prime minister of Afghanistan’s coming provisional government.  “I’m fine,” he told reporters. “I just have a scratch on my face.” The Washington Postleads with word that al-Qaida troops in Tora Bora are “under heavy assault.” The article, which like the other papers’ similar pieces is datelined “Tora Bora,” says that the anti-Taliban guerrillas are reporting heavy resistance yet still have “captured half the complex.” (The LAT says they’ve only captured “a few caverns.”) The New York Timesleads with a summary of the war, including updates on Tora Bora and the deaths of the U.S. troops. The Wall Street Journaltops its world-wide newsbox with news that’s similar to yesterday’s headlines: A Marine unit is patrolling near Kandahar and looking for a fight. “We stepped off into a new phase of this campaign, and that’s participating in offensive operations,” said one of the unit’s top officers. Still, the Marines said that Afghan opposition forces will lead the way. 

The WP reports that the region’s anti-Taliban commander says he doesn’t want U.S. troops involved in the attack on Tora Bora, although he said he wouldn’t mind a little U.S. air support. The commander said that 20 or fewer U.S. personnel are on the ground in the region. 

Why are the Afghan guerrillas so eager to run up the mountain?  “Twenty-five million,” answered one top commander. “They promised it, and we will remind them.” Another officer had a different explanation, “This was the center of our jihad [back in the 1980s]. Those people don’t belong there.”

The papers report that al-Qaida troops are trapped in Tora Bora; their escape routes have been snowed in. “They are surrounded by us,” said one anti-Taliban officer. “We want to finish them very soon.” Local commanders said they didn’t know if Bin Laden was still hiding in the area. 

The WP and LAT note that one Afghan officer claimed that his group had intercepted an al-Qaida radio message ordering troops to hold their fire until the attackers climb the mountain, then trap ‘em.

It’s still unclear whether Bin Laden’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is dead. The papers quote the head of anti-Taliban forces in the area saying al-Zawahiri had an unpleasant, and fatal, encounter with a U.S. bomb. But the papers also emphasize that it’s still unconfirmed.

The WP, in a profile of Afghanistan’s coming prime minister, describes Karzai as a “bookish, balding” moderate who has good relations with the United States. (Apparently a number of his brothers have restaurants here.)  One sign of his reasonable ways: His wife is an OB-GYN. He’s also well respected in Afghanistan, especially because of his connections to the former king. But at least one Afghan expressed a reservation, “He might just be too nice.”

The NYT says that besides surviving a U.S. bombing, Karzai kept busy yesterday by negotiating with the Taliban for the surrender of Kandahar. He wouldn’t give any details. USAT, meanwhile, says that Mullah Omar asked Karzai for amnesty. Karzai rejected him. 

The WSJ, in a remarkably in-depth article,has a possible explanation for why the errant bomb yesterday probably went off target: The U.S. military still relies on soldiers to read their instruments and relay bombing coordinates to strike aircraft, thus increasing the probability of human error. The Army already has a few gadgets that forward their readings directly to the attacking planes. But, says the WSJ,  “The Pentagon’s penchant for big-ticket items such as ships, tanks and planes … has conspired to delay investments in such newer, high-tech communications equipment.” In other words, the troops yesterday didn’t have ‘em.

The papers report that Israel has stopped attacks against the Palestinian Authority and given Yasser Arafat 12 hours to get his act together. “You’ve been given a list of 36 people who to the best of our considerations are at the head of the terror, and I highly recommend that you put them in jail,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Arafat hopped to and ordered the arrest of the founder of Hamas, the 65-year-old Sheik Ahmed Yassin. It wasn’t easy. Hundreds of Hamas supporters gathered around Yassin’s home and threw stones at the police, who responded with gunfire wounding three protestors.  

The NYT fronts a fascinating news analysis of the situation in Israel. The piece label’s Yassin’s arrest a “mostly symbolic act.” Then it gets interesting: “Surveys of Palestinians show that in the long term, most favor a two-state solution to the standoff with Israel. That puts them at odds with Hamas. But in the short term, Hamas is winning the argument over strategy and tactics. Most Palestinians do not support the cease-fire Mr. Arafat keeps insisting he wants, and many of them approve of the suicide bombings.”

“People want nothing short of revenge, blood, more of it,” one Palestinian pollster explained. “And under these conditions, the ones who give them blood are the ones they will give their support.”

The NYT off-leads with the disclosure that back in October the Justice Department decided that the FBI wouldn’t be allowed to examine records to see whether any of the Sept.-11-related detainees had ever purchased guns. A Justice Department spokesperson claimed that the law precluded releasing the background-check records for investigative purposes. The Times says the decision “is in keeping with Attorney General John Ashcroft’s strong support of gun rights.” The decision is also consistent with Ashcroft’s support of privacy rights, though the paper skips that part.

James Orenstein, a former deputy attorney general, writes in an NYT op-ed that we should forget about constitutionality issues with President Bush’s proposed military tribunals. The real problem is that the tribunals may “make it harder to prevent and punish terrorism.” How so? “If one suspected terrorist is tried by a military tribunal without the usual constitutional safeguards, important evidence uncovered in that trial could be suppressed on constitutional grounds in later civilian trials.”