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A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 23 2001 3:36 PM

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The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and USA Today  all lead with news that two Washington D.C.-based postal workers died over the weekend of what appears to be anthrax, and another was diagnosed with pulmonary anthrax (in addition to the worker who was diagnosed with the disease on Sunday). All of them worked at the Brentwood mail sorting facility.  Experts are theorizing that automated sorting machines may have caused a tainted envelope to open slightly, and that blowers used to clean the machines may have spread the bacteria. The Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox is topped with word that the Pentagon has signaled its support for the Northern Alliance to take Kabul. (Other papers still report that in deference to U.S. wishes, the rebels won't actually enter the capital.) The Journal sees the Pentagon's stance as forced by circumstance: Talks on the post-Taliban coalition haven't been moving anywhere quickly, so the Pentagon is resorting to what it sees as the only other option: a Northern Alliance takeover.  The paper says that the move "could cause serious problems later."

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The papers off-lead with postal workers' outrage that health officials downplayed their risk of contracting anthrax. Although CDC officials knew that the anthrax-tainted letter sent Sen. Tom Daschle had gone through the Brentwood facility, they believed that anthrax wouldn't escape a sealed envelope and thus told the Postal Service its workers didn't need to be tested. 

The WP reports that because of the number of infections at the Brentwood postal facility, the FBI believes that at least one additional letter—besides the one sent to Daschle—went through the building. The Post also quotes experts saying that there's very little chance that enough anthrax would remain on a letter that came in contact with an infected sorting machine to cause the disease. On an average, the (now closed) Brentwood facility sorts about 3.5 million pieces of mail per day.

The papers front the United States' continued bombing of Taliban front-line positions. "Our efforts from the air clearly are to assist those forces on the ground in being able to occupy more ground," said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The NYT says that "coordination is sometimes spotty." One example: American jets mistakenly dropped bombs on the wrong side of the front lines, about hundred from Northern Alliance positions.

When asked about the possibility of halting the strikes prior to Ramadan (Nov. 17), Rumsfeld at first punted, then said, "There's no timetable on this."

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The WSJ takes another crack at guessing why the Pentagon is now simpatico with the notion of the Northern Alliance occupying Kabul: "The Pentagon may be under pressure to produce some dramatic victory." A NYT analysis also notices the newfound affinity for the Northern Alliance and laments the lack of a "Southern Alliance," which would be made up of Pashtuns, a group that comprises roughly 50 percent of all Afghans.

The WSJ notes that all this talk about whether the Northern Alliance will enter Kabul or simply close in on it, obscures an important point: The Northern Alliance may fail. They only have 3,000 fighters available for the job, while the Taliban have 5,000 to 10,000 troops to defend the city.

USAT goes below the fold with Northern Alliance complaints that their forces around the strategic city of Mazar-e Sharif are almost out of food and ammunition. The LAT reports that anti-Taliban forces near Mazar-e Sharif "suffered a new setback" when they were pushed four miles away from the city. Still, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the fighting around the city is "starting to come to a head," and that there might be "progress in the not-too-distant future."

At the ends of one of its stories, the LAT notes that Rumsfeld was incensed about a news leak last Friday that U.S. special operations teams were operating in Afghanistan, calling it "a violation of federal criminal law." Really?

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The NYT reports that the U.S., in what seems like a wise move, has agreed to help Uzbekistan clean up a remote island where "the Soviet Union dumped tons of lethal [anthrax] spores."

The papers report on one positive development that has come about as a result of Sept. 11: For the first time, Sinn Fein has called on the IRA to disarm. "The events of Sept. 11 in New York and Washington and in Pennsylvania have given added urgency and incentive to those of us in Northern Ireland who want to bring our peace process to a conclusion," said a Sinn Fein leader.

The LAT adds some details about just how ill-prepared the U.S. health-care system is for a biological attack. For example, says the paper, "half of all hospitals do not have the computer systems that would allow epidemiologists to share information about incidents of rare conditions." Currently, hospitals send that type of info to the CDC, once a month. The dean of UCLA's school of public health school commented, "Our systems are inadequate to do surveillance, to do detection and to do follow-up." 

The WSJ says that airlines are updating their little-known passenger profiling system. One new feature: Unlike before, if your name is on a terrorism watch list, the airlines will know. In the story's 12th paragraph, the Journal, citing "people familiar with the matter," reports that when two of the highjackers went through check-in on Sept. 11, the profiling system flagged them as potential risks. Adhering to standard operating procedure, the men's bags were scrupulously examined, then the men were let aboard, no questions asked.