The New York Timesleads with the Taliban's attempt to negotiate their escape out of the northern city of Kunduz. The paper says that the Taliban have offered to lay down their arms so long as they're promised safe passage to Pakistan. The Los Angeles Times, though, which leads with a summary of the war and the Kunduz situation, says that the Taliban were "setting only one condition for surrender: their lives." (CNN and the wires report that while details still need to be hashed out, a general agreement to surrender has been reached.) The LAT's lead focuses on news that the Navy will intercept and board ships that may be harboring al-Qaida members on the lam. The Washington Postleads with the death of Ottilie Lundgren, a 94-year-old Connecticut woman, from inhalation anthrax. Officials still don't know how she was infected.
Though authorities suspect contaminated mail had something to do with Lundgren's death, the Post notes that because she was frail, friends brought her mail in for her. This may be another bit of evidence for the theory, which investigators discussed yesterday, that older people might be more susceptible to anthrax. Of five people who've died in the past two months from anthrax, four have been over 50 years old (not that that's old). In other anthrax news, health officials announced that the strain of anthrax that killed Kathy Nguyen, a New York City hospital worker, was the same one that was sent to Sen. Tom Daschle and NBC anchor Tom Brokaw.
The papers report that though Pakistan supports the proposal to let Taliban in Kunduz escape across the border, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld opposes it: "Any idea that those people should be let loose to leave that country and to go bring terror to other countries is unacceptable."
Even if there's an agreement to surrender, says the LAT, U.S. officials believe that at least some of the foreign Taliban will keep fighting. And while the Taliban have talked tough about holding onto Kandahar, their spiritual capital, the paper says the reality is that if (probably when) Kunduz falls, the Taliban will lose hope of keeping Kandahar.
The NYT reports that the United States' envoy to Afghanistan said he was plenty optimistic about the coming meeting in Germany of Afghan groups. The Northern Alliance, though, as first reported by the papers yesterday, is less enthused, particularly about the fact that in attendance will be two southern groups the Alliance claims are supported by Iran and Pakistan. The U.S. diplomat, in turn, tried to be, well, diplomatic about the differences: "They're more convergent than they themselves understand."
The papers also report that the Afghans aren't the only ones disagreeing. Apparently, the British are bummed that the U.S. has been lukewarm on their plan to send thousands of British peace-keeping troops into Afghanistan. The sense among some on the island is that the U.S. is preoccupied with the chase for Bin Laden and is back-burnering nation-building issues.
The Post tops its paper with a Bob Woodward special. Citing "well-placed sources," Woodward says that at the behest of the CIA, 50 countries have detained about 350 people who may be connected to al-Qaida. The CIA, apparently, has been inundating foreign intelligence services with requests. "We can't get away from these [CIA] people," said one European diplomat. Of course, sometimes the war against terror calls for more than nudging. "One country balked at providing information the CIA needed to pinpoint a terrorist's location," reports Woodward. "Time was critical, so a covert CIA team broke into a facility overseas and stole the information."
The WP goes above the fold with a lengthy feature on the documents found in former al-Qaida safe houses. The papers describe everything from transcripts of Bin Laden's speeches to notes on the decision to blow up the Buddhist statues (hence the article's pithy headline: "Bin Laden, Bombs, and Buddhas"). One booklet, says the Post, "depicts al-Qaida as just one of the militant groups, and it is not even listed first."
An excerpt from the minutes of the meeting about the statues: "Even though the meeting decided the two statues in Bamian were on the side of a mountain and had thousands of years of history dating from the 9th century, they are only pieces of stone and mud, and we don't care."
The LAT fronts the administration's continuing debate about whether to strike Iraq. The paper says that the prevailing opinion, which Bush seems to tentatively support, is to get tougher on Iraq but not to drop bombs. (What getting tougher entails the LAT doesn't say.) The paper says that the most important reason we're holding back is that, as one intelligence official put it, "there's not a drop of evidence" linking Iraq to Sept. 11. (As for the meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraq spy, one official said, "Bad guys meet bad guys all the time.")
The NYT, following up a report it filed yesterday, says that several police chiefs in the U.S. are reluctant to help the FBI interview thousands of Middle Eastern men. The chiefs say the interviews smack of racial profiling, a method that until a few months ago the feds were castigating police departments for using. The interviews, though, are voluntary. And some chiefs think that part of the problem is that the FBI has angered police by consistently withholding details on the investigation, so now the police aren't interested in helping the FBI.
The NYT's Amy Waldman, recently arrived in Afghanistan, seems to have found a book of the Taliban's penal codes. According to the tome, the following are "unclean": "Pork, pig, pig oil, anything made from human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography, any equipment that produces the joy of music, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computer, VCR's, televisions, anything that propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, pictures, Christmas cards."
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