USA Today leads with news that the FAA is considering requiring airlines to match all checked bags with on-board passengers. The goal is to prevent terrorists from taking the easy path: planting a bomb and then not boarding the flight. The paper says a number of airlines oppose the idea, arguing that it would be expensive, would cause delays, and wouldn’t stop suicide bombers. The Los Angeles Times leads with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to Central Asia. The paper emphasizes that Rumsfeld urged Uzbekistan to reopen a bridge on the Afghan border that could be used to deliver humanitarian aid. The Washington Post leads with news that Pakistan’s president has “toned down” his message that the U.S. shouldn’t bomb during Ramadan. The New York Times leads with word that the Tajikistan has agreed to let the U.S. take over three of its air bases in return for a big wad of cash (“tens of millions of dollars,” says the Times). The bases top the Wall Street Journal ’s worldwide news box.
U.S. military officers are currently checking out the condition of the air bases. If they turn out to be usable, they would be—by far—the closest U.S. bases to Afghanistan and would make it easier for the U.S. to carry out sustained and heavy bombings. They could also be used for commando raids and as hubs to supply to the Northern Alliance. But the bases are said to be in less than tip-top shape, and the Pentagon isn't sure it wants a fixer-upper. “It’d be useful to be closer than we are,” said an anonymous Pentagon person. “But we are not going to plow $100 million into a base to bring it up to our standards.”
According to the NYT, the Pentagon denied a report in TheNew Yorker that 12 Delta Force commandos were wounded in an Oct. 20 raid.
The papers report that American B-52s continued to pound Taliban front-line positions—USAT says the planes dropped more than 80 bombs near Mazar-e Sharif. The NYT, though, says the targeted troops are adapting: Taliban forces in the south radio warnings when they hear the planes overhead. By the time the bombers reach the front lines in the north, the troops have tucked themselves into their bunkers.
Everybody mentions comments by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the U.S. “dropped a couple more” special operations teams in Northern Alliance territory.
The LAT reports on a mysterious encounter, perhaps the first meeting in Afghanistan between an American journalist and American troops. The LAT reporter, Paul Watson, spotted a few light-skinned guys with head scarves hanging out with Northern Alliance troops. Watson walked up to them and noticed they were “dressed in chinos, one with wraparound sunglasses, and another wearing a Marlboro Classic shirt with the sleeves rolled up, exposing an expensive watch.” When the reporter tried to start a conversation with them, he was told they only spoke Spanish. Great, said the photographer accompanying Watson, “Yo hablo español!” The Dockers guys didn’t answer, hopped in their truck, and drove off.
The Post’s lead mentions “reports that thousands of armed Pakistanis and other foreigners were pouring into Kabul, and then fanning out toward the front lines.” The paper says Northern Alliance commanders confirmed that thousands of foreign Taliban supporters were showing up on the front lines.
During his travels, Rumsfeld flew over Afghanistan for about 10 minutes, although at a very high altitude in order to stay above any threats. Rumsfeld also took a safe, albeit uncomfortable, approach into Islamabad. In order to avoid any potential ground fire, his plane descended from 18,000 to 1,000 feet in one minute.
The WP fronts a piece that tries to deconstruct how Sept. 11 hijackers worked. The NYT ran a similar story yesterday. Today’s piece doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence about the investigation. According to the article, authorities “believe the Sept. 11 plot was approved by al Qaeda.” (Italics added.) "Nobody has an idea how they worked," said one expert.
The WP reports on the curious fact that Afghanistan and the Taliban have never been listed on the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism. There are various reasons why they’ve never made the list: 1) They’re not a recognized state. 2) Hey, if we didn’t list them, then we could always threaten to, and maybe that could scare 'em into cleaning up their act. 3) A U.S. oil company, Unocal, wanted to build a $4.5 billion pipeline across Afghanistan. It appreciated the stability that the Taliban brought. In fact, says the article: “In a late 1997 public relations effort, Unocal flew Taliban officials to tour the company's U.S. offices. They took a side trip to the beach, then flew to Washington for meetings in the Capitol and at the State Department.”
The LAT fronts a history of the United States’ lax airport security. It’s serious stuff, but the online headline isn’t: "EXPLOSIVE AVIATION SITUATION."
Yesterday’s NYT op-ed page featured a blunt assessment of the war in Afghanistan: “Massive military force is not a winning weapon against these enemies. It makes the problem worse.” So what should the U.S. do? The author, a professor and former Air Force officer, suggests that the U.S. “use the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as an excuse to halt the bombing campaign.” Then what? “Rely on bribery, covert action, dissemination of the American message by radio to Afghans and increased humanitarian aid, particularly to refugees, to break apart the Taliban. This is not terribly heartening. But it is the least bad alternative at the moment.”