A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 16 2001 10:37 AM

Start Spreading the Noose



The Washington Post and USA Today lead with the most upbeat appraisal yet of American progress in Afghanistan. Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told reporters that another day of allied gains has facilitated a nationwide search for Taliban and al-Qaida leaders. "We are tightening the noose. It's a matter of time." The Los Angeles Times and New York Times lead with yesterday's compromise between House and Senate negotiators on an aviation security bill. The revised bill calls for passengers at major airports to be screened by federal employees. At the Wall Street Journal, the top news story announces the introduction of British marines to Northern Afghanistan, where they will secure airfields, help apportion power, and ferret out lingering pockets of Taliban resistance. The paper sees the British invasion as the first step toward the creation of an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. French troops, the story reports, are poised to follow the British lead.


Gen. Franks takes the papers through a series of promising developments. In the northern city of Kunduz, beleaguered Taliban forces tried to surrender to U.N officials rather than face capture and possible execution by the Northern Alliance. (Citing a lack of authority, the U.N. delegation declined and the fighting resumed.) And Taliban fighters in Kandahar, a onetime stronghold, seem ready to capitulate: The WP reports that what remains of the Taliban resistance movement is mostly concerned with how best to hand over power to tribal leaders.

Perhaps the most significant development took place in western Afghanistan, where Alliance leaders captured over 100 members of the Taliban. The LAT counts 19 "top leaders" among the group, including the just-deposed governors of Kabul and Herat. And the NYT speculates that these captives could be instrumental in locating either Osama Bin Laden or Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The WP lead predicts that U.S. bombing in the north will be immediately curbed (Ramadan starts tomorrow) as the American focus shifts from gaining ground to nabbing leaders. Without getting too specific, Franks acknowledged the increasing role played by U.S Special Forces in pursuit of key figures from al-Qaida and the Taliban. "We have had forces engaged in this sort of activity for some time. We have that sort of activity ongoing as we speak—direct action, reconnaissance."

USAT reminds that despite the new door-to-door effort to find him, the chances of capturing Bin Laden remain slim. "Osama has already decided that death will be preferable to being arrested by America," a Taliban spokesman tells the paper.


So how much longer does the Pentagon expect Bin Laden to remain in Afghanistan? "Anything is possible in that country," Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld tells the LAT. "You've got porous borders in a number of directions." The story adds that Bin Laden no longer travels with his usual coterie of bodyguards and advisors, making him all the more difficult to identify. With the country in chaos, Rumsfeld warns, little could be done to prevent Bin Laden from slipping across the border "on a donkey or a burro, a mule, a horse, a truck."

According to the NYT lead, the revised aviation bill allows for a one-year transition period while the federal government hires and trains the nearly 30,000 additional personnel required. The bill includes an option for airlines to opt out of the federal system after three years, provided they are able to demonstrate a satisfactory level of security. President Bush, whose own airport safety proposal called for a more modest federal role, said yesterday that he welcomed the compromise.

The papers front new information from the data recorder aboard American Airlines flight 587 suggesting the plane encountered significant turbulence just seconds before pilots lost control. Though a well-functioning plane would have withstood the jolts, investigators have seized on this evidence of turbulence, calling it a crucial link in the chain of events that severed the tail fin.

According to a front-page NYT report, the Bush administration is concerned that with their common enemy in retreat, the various factions that support the Northern Alliance may be soon to part ways. The piece observes that, to some extent, it's already happening. Local warlords outside the influence of the Northern Alliance have taken control of provinces in both the north and the south. The unanticipated speed of the Taliban retreat has only increased the urgency to fill the power vacuum with some sort of multinational security force. British forces are already on the ground. French and Canadian troops seem sure to follow. But as the paper reminds, these are likely short-term solutions. Bangladesh, Malaysia, Turkey, and Jordan have also offered to send peacekeeping forces to the region, but were told by the Bush administration to wait while they weigh the merits of an all-Muslim security force.

A front-page LAT poll finds that over 70 percent of Americans believe the nation is in a recession, up from 50 percent two months ago. But a second story on the LAT front suggests things may, in fact, be returning to normal. After a several-month lull in news of his investigation, the Gary Condit scandal has returned. The congressman disclosed yesterday that several of his documents have been subpoenaed by a grand jury.

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