Today's Papers

Anaconda Slithers Away

The Wall Street Journal’s top world-wide newsbox item focuses on news that Britain, responding to U.S. requests, announced that it’s sending another 1,700 troops into Afghanistan. (Given that the U.S. presumably still has plenty of troops available, it would have been helpful if paper had asked why the U.S. requested the deployment.) The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today all lead with Israeli troops pulling out of Bethlehem and other areas it occupied in the past two weeks. The WSJ calls the pullback “a critical step toward renewing the peace process.”

The LAT emphasizes that Vice President Cheney is taking a more active role in Mideast peace talks and is pondering a possible meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The papers say that while Cheney reaffirmed the U.S.’ “absolutely unshakeable” ties with Israel, he did call for Israel to “alleviate the devastating economic hardships being experienced by innocent Palestinian men, women and children.”

Meanwhile, everybody reports that Palestinians fired two rockets into Israel; nobody was injured. And one Palestinian gunman was killed trying to infiltrate Israel from Gaza. 

The NYT got ahold of a scathing letter U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sent Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week. Annan wrote, “Judging by the means and methods employed by the [Israeli Army], the fighting has come to resemble all-out conventional warfare. In the process, hundreds of innocent noncombatant civilians— men, women and children—have been injured or killed.” The Times adds that the letter seems particularly harsh since it contains little criticism of Palestinian violence.

USAT stuffs an interesting piece saying that while Arab states have said publicly that they oppose a U.S. smackdown of Iraq, many of the countries’ leaders privately told Cheney that they’re fine with it, so long as the battle is, as the paper puts it, “swift and decisive.”

The papers all report that Gen. Tommy Franks declared that Operation Anaconda is now finished and was “an unqualified and absolute success.”

At least one Afghan commander was a bit skeptical about that. “Americans don’t listen to anyone,” he said, as quoted by the WSJ. “Most people escaped. You can’t call that a success.”

Franks acknowledged, “I believe that future operations may well be the size of Anaconda.”

The NYT suggests that that’s more than idle talk. When Franks was asked if he was already thinking of specific places where al-Qaida is gathering, the general responded, “Yes.”

The papers note that the U.S. said it attacked a convoy of al-Qaida members on Sunday, killing 16 people. In an unrelated action, the Pentagon says that U.S. and coalition member troops raided a compound in Kandahar, arresting 30 people, including some suspected al-Qaida fighters. 

The WSJ, citing “senior defense officials,” says, “Top leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist network being pursued by the U.S. have dispersed into small groups that are very difficult to find. Most of the larger pockets of al-Qaida fighters, likely to be targeted in raids similar to Operation Anaconda, include only midlevel military leaders.”

The WP fronts word that a top al-Qaida operative has been arrested in the Sudan. The U.S. had long been pushing for the arrest of Abu Anas Liby, who the Post calls the “most senior al-Qaida member to be arrested since the United States launched its war on terrorism.” The Sudanese have agreed to hand Liby over to Egyptian authorities, who want to try him for his role in an assassination attempt of President Hosni Mubarak in 1995.

The LAT fronts a piece questioning the al-Qaida threat in the Republic of Georgia, where U.S. troops are already training. According to the paper, “Analysts in Georgia play down any serious or immediate terrorist threat emanating from the Pankisi Gorge. They see the U.S. program as designed to avert possible future threats, to prop up the weak and corrupt Georgian state in a region of U.S. oil interests and to strengthen America’s foothold in the Caucasus.”

The NYT reports that federal prosecutors are considering seeking the death penalty in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is accused of being the “20th hijacker” in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The papers report that the Pentagon is proposing to scale back combat air patrols over New York and elsewhere. President Bush still needs to OK the plan.

The LAT says that investigators have concluded that documents relating to Timothy McVeigh’s trial weren’t turned over to the defense because of human error, not a computer glitch as the FBI had previously maintained.

A NYT editorial nails a double-whammy, simultaneously failing to make an original argument while also serving as a mash-note to the paper’s news side. The editorial, headlined, A REVEALING TROVE IN AFGHANISTAN, states, “Reporters from The New York Times have discovered thousands of pages of documents in the remains of the Afghan camps and buildings of the Taliban and al-Qaida that provide a surprising portrait of an army and how it was trained. What is revealed is a fighting force of unexpected scale and sophistication. The documents also show the degree to which the army mustered by the Taliban and al-Qaida was driven by religious fervor.”

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