Today's Papers

South Asian Tour de Force

The New York Timesleads with an interview with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on the future of U.S. military strategy in the war against terrorism. The Washington Postleads with news that an al-Qaida camp which the U.S. believed was hosting regrouping terrorists last week, and was therefore bombed, has now been leveled. Atop the worldwide news box at the Wall Street Journalis President Bush’s acknowledgement yesterday that he may not balance the budget this year. Bush defended his tax cuts and said that he will propose an economic stimulus package in February that includes more tax cuts. Analysts expect Bush’s budgets for 2002 and 2003 to be in the red. USA Today’s lead goes to the streets of Afghanistan to talk to Afghans who have claimed that recent American airstrikes have hit civilians, not al-Qaida fighters. According to the paper’s Afghan sources, civilians have been killed because Afghans with grudges have extrapolated that the American bombs which so neatly disposed of the Taliban would be similarly effective against personal enemies. Tribal leaders are requesting airstrikes against rival tribes. According to the Los Angeles Timeslead, California Gov. Gray Davis wants state legislation modeled on the federal government’s Patriot Act that will allow him greater authority to wiretap phones and e-mail to fight terrorism in California. New York has already passed a similar law, and such proposals are in the works in Arizona and Washington state. Under the proposed legislation in California, law enforcement would be allowed to monitor any phone used by suspects, not just specific phone numbers, and the rules would apply not only to possible acts of terrorism but to any criminal investigation. 

The NYT got the impression from its Wolfowitz interview that the Pentagon is considering delaying military attacks on difficult targets like Iraq in favor of first working with friendly countries like the Philippines who are happy the United States wants to help them get rid of terrorists in their midst. He also singled out Somalia as a place that interests the United States because of its ties to terrorism. The deputy secretary, who is said to favor an attack on Iraq, said that Iraq has not made any effort to oppose terrorism, unlike many other terrorism-sponsoring countries, who Wolfowitz said have started to change their ways after watching the American military take out the Taliban.

The WP lead reports that U.S. Special Forces are searching the rubble of the leveled terrorist camp in eastern Afghanistan and makes it sound like the United States has things under control there. But the LAT, which also fronts a piece on the camp, thinks the situation is a little messier. Terrorists are still holed up in there, according to the paper. As Rear Adm. Stufflebeem described the situation at the camp to the LAT, “Something’s coming out of the ground. And we’re after it.”

The WP lead also reports that the United States now believes that one of Osama Bin Laden’s top five aides and one of his senior operational coordinators are probably dead. As for what happened to those 1,000 Taliban plus Mullah Omar in Baghran who got a lot of press last week for sort-of surrendering, Stufflebeem said the United States assumed too much in believing that the surrender negotiations were on Omar’s behalf. In fact, situations like this one inspired the Pentagon to announce that U.S. officials would no longer comment on indications they might get on the whereabouts of Omar or Bin Laden, in order to avoid having to back off from such reports later on.

An Afghan told USAT that the Dec. 29 strike that killed 52 people in eastern Afghanistan was requested by a misinformant who disliked two of the families who died in the attack. Anonymous Afghan officials said similar misinformation led to an attack on a convoy supposedly heading to interim leader Hamid Karzai’s Dec. 20 inauguration. The paper apparently couldn’t get much of a response to these claims out of U.S. officials, who maintain they killed Taliban in the strikes and who would only say they try to independently verify information provided by Afghans. USAT leaves it at that, but the LAT, which fronts a similar story but digs deeper into the subject, gets a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command to elaborate. He says that the United States doesn’t rely on a single piece of information but rather triple-checks Afghan informant tips with Special Forces on the ground and data from intelligence-gathering planes.  

British Prime Minister Tony Blair traveled to India and Pakistan in an attempt to cool tempers and then continued his tour into Afghanistan, the papers report inside. According to the NYT, Pakistan’s Musharraf used his appearance with Blair to preview several steps he will announce to curb terrorism, possibly including: further restricting the activities of militant groups, banning hate speech at Muslim schools, and ending open fund-raising for militants. But despite Blair’s visit, India still refused to hold talks with Pakistan until Musharraf does more to stop terrorism.

The papers report, the NYT on its front, that the captain of the ship accused by Israel of carrying weapons to the Palestinian Authority last week said he was working for a weapons agent of Yasser Arafat’s organization. The weaponry was intended to arm the Palestinians, he said.

The WP front reports that from among the hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals whom the United States has ordered deported but who have ignored the mandate, U.S. authorities have made it a top priority to find 6,000 young Middle Eastern men to make sure they leave.

The NYT off-leads the news that federal regulators have given Bush the informal recommendation that he ease off a contentious air pollution regulation, a rule that mandates that power plants upgrade pollution control equipment when they upgrade their operations. The paper points out that relaxing this regulation will please energy groups, who are big supporters of the president.

The WP fronts more details on the Taliban economic system that left Afghanistan in ruin. Over the last few months, officials at the nation’s central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank, were visited regularly by Taliban leaders who came to make withdrawals—to the tune of  $5 million or $6 million at a time (in U.S. dollars and Pakistani rupees), which they stuffed into burlap sacks. No one knows how much money is missing. Reports speculate that Mullah Omar himself took to the hills on his getaway donkey after making off with $100 million.