The Washington Postand New York Timeslead with the Taliban's continued retreat from Afghan cities and the Northern Alliance's entry into Kabul. The Los Angeles Timesfronts—and others off-lead—President Bush and Russian President Putin's agreement to reduce their nuclear stockpiles by two-thirds, leaving them each about 2,000 nukes. The two leaders have been hinting about such a move for months. Still, says the WP, "Yesterday's announcements seemed finally to shatter the arms control stalemate of the past decade." USA Todayleads with President Bush's executive order that would allow the government to bypass civilian courts and instead create military tribunals to try foreigners (and only foreigners) suspected of terrorism. The Wall Street Journal's worldwide newsbox is topped with investigators' announcement that there was an "airframe rattling" noise before Flight 587 started to fall from the sky.
Investigators aren't sure what the noise was. And they're further confused by reports that the tail section fell first, then the engines, then, finally, the plane itself. The Journal says that sequence appears to be "unprecedented in modern commercial crashes." Also, investigators recovered the plane's the flight data recorder.
The military tribunals President Bush authorized could operate in secrecy and bypass constitutional guarantees. The President himself will decide who gets sent to such courts. There will be no trial by jury and no judicial overview. The order goes beyond al-Qaida and applies to any suspected foreign terrorist or foreigner who "knowingly harbors" them. (Question: Does the directive define terrorism? If so, how?)
The papers notes that the last time military tribunals were created, during World War II, the Supreme Court ruled that they were constitutional. The papers cite various reasons why the United States needs such courts again: the imperative, for example, to keep intelligence methods and sources secret. But the papers don't ask about another, admittedly more awkward motivation: Might it be that "beyond a reasonable doubt" is too stringent a standard to result in the lockup of Bin Laden and associates?
The papers note sketchy reports that Kandahar, the Taliban's stronghold and spiritual capital, might be about to fall. The Northern Alliance isn't at the gates, but some leaders in the south may be pushing the Taliban out of the city.
The papers report that the U.N. and United States are still hustling to create an interim coalition to govern Afghanistan. There are plenty of political reasons for that, but there's also a military one. "The closer we get to a political administration, the more there is something for the Taliban to defect to," said one administration official.
The Northern Alliance says that as the result of a "power vacuum" and "looting" in Kabul, it has sent a few thousand troops and police units into the city. The NYT, citing a "senior administration source," says that Turkey, Jordan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh have all offered troops for a peacekeeping force there. Pakistan wants to join the team, too. The White House, though, said that would "not be appropriate." Whoever comes, it will likely be weeks until they are in Kabul.
The NYT says that's a bad thing because "mayhem appears to be a likely outcome" in the capital. Already, "across town, groups of young men with stolen guns and crude muskets declared themselves policeman."
The LAT, though, reports "a feared blood bath had not followed the Northern Alliance's seizure of Kabul, at least not on the first day. The city's fall to the opposition was remarkably peaceful."
President Bush weighed in and urged reporters to "pay attention" to the jubilation in Kabul.
The WP notes that the Northern Alliance may not be so welcome if they advance beyond the capital. "Just south of Kabul," says the paper, "local leaders met today and issued a statement that they did not want the Northern Alliance entering their region." (The papers are a bit thin on info about whether the Alliance plans to keep rolling south, but then the alliance itself may not know.)
The Post fronts Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's comments that U.S. Special Forces are in southern Afghanistan trying to track down al-Qaida leaders.
Though the Taliban seem to be rushing to the hills, Pentagon officials say they would appreciate it if the Taliban weren't so haphazard about it. "If it were an organized retreat, we'd have a lot more targets of opportunity," said one Pentagon official. "But this is very scattered and disrupted."
So what happens if and when they make it to the hills? Not much, says a former Afghan fighter. "Guerrilla warfare is possible when you have popular support," he said. "But I don't think they have it anymore."
Taliban leader Mullah Omar was said to be on the move. But he did have time to make a radio address. "Any person who goes hither and thither is like a slaughtered chicken that falls and dies," said the Mullah, who, apparently out of rhymes, continued, "You should regroup yourselves, resist and fight."
The NYT says that a Pakistani journalist, who says he interviewed the Evil One last week, claims "that Bin Laden told him in advance that the Taliban would retreat from Kabul as part of a trap." Yes, it's once removed, and yes, Bin Laden may have been bluffing. But still.
The NYT wins today's Stating the Obvious Award. A stuffed headline reads, "Bin Laden Has Less Room to Hide In, U.S. Says." Thank you, U.S.