The Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal's worldwide newsbox all lead with the crash of an American Airlines jetliner, which killed 251 passengers, nine crew, and as many as nine people on the ground. Investigators aren't sure what caused the crash, but they suspect it was a mechanical feature, not terrorism. The Los Angeles Times, aided by its West Coast deadlines, leads with a report that not only have the Taliban abandoned Kabul, but Northern Alliance troops have entered it. Everybody else off-leads with the Taliban's retreat (except USAT, which stuffs it); they don't mention the alliance's entry.
Crash investigators have already recovered the plane's cockpit voice recorder, and they're now focusing on the possibility that one of the engines may have had some sort of catastrophic failure. Jetliners are designed to fly even if an engine fails. But when the plane, Flight 587, crashed, it had only been in the air for three minutes and was still climbing, the most difficult time to control a plane with a bad engine. FAA officials say air traffic controllers didn't receive any distress calls from the plane. And the Bush administration says they hadn't received any intelligence reports that might point to terrorism. Still, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, "we have not ruled anything out."
The WP, citing a " knowledgeable aviation source," reports that the terminal from which Flight 587 departed didn't have bomb detectors installed. The paper notes that most baggage on planes in the United States still isn't scanned for explosives.
The papers report that Rockaway Beach, the neighborhood in Queens where the plane hit, has now been struck by tragedy twice in the past two months. About 60 of its residents, mostly police and firemen, were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center.
Everybody seems to agree that the Taliban have taken flight from Kabul. The papers also report on claims by the Northern Alliance that they have captured Herat, Afghanistan's second-largest city. The alliance now controls the northern half of Afghanistan. But there's still a whole lot of fog-of-war going on. Specifically, it was unclear if the Northern Alliance's troops had entered Kabul in large numbers, which they have basically promised not to do. (The LAT, citing an anti-Taliban officer, reports, "Alliance soldiers overtook the Taliban army garrison in Kabul.") The papers were also uncertain of the Taliban's status. They could be collapsing. Or, says the WSJ, they "may simply move the line of confrontation to the region south of Kabul, where the Taliban's true strongholds are situated."
The NYT quotes a message from Mullah Omar that gives of glimpse of what the Taliban may be thinking and hints that air power has indeed been effective: "Defending the cities with front lines that can be targeted from the air will cause us terrible loss. Our strength lies in ground warfare, which will be better manifested if we leave the cities and take to the mountains."
The papers all notice one reason for the Northern Alliance's quick advances: Large numbers of Taliban have been defecting.
Many residents of Kabul and other cities seemed thrilled that the Taliban have packed up. "When the Taliban came, we were here physically, but not mentally," said one female doctor. "We escaped our bodies to save our minds."
The NYT's David Rohde dispenses with unconfirmed reports of this and that and instead writes what he saw: "Northern Alliance soldiers dragged a wounded Taliban soldier out of a ditch today. As the terrified man begged for his life, the alliance soldiers pulled him to his feet. Then, one soldier fired two bursts from his rifle into the man's chest. A second soldier beat the lifeless body with his rifle butt. A third repeatedly smashed a rocket- propelled-grenade launcher into the man's head." Rohde then goes on to describe a handful of other executions of soldiers and "widespread" looting.
One Northern Alliance soldier explained such acts by waxing nostalgic about the old days. During the war against the USSR, he said, "the mujaheddin were like angels. Now the soldiers are sinful."
The papers report that the U.N. and the United States are now scrambling to put together some sort of interim coalition to run Afghanistan. One idea, floated by Secretary of State Powell, is to bring in peacekeepers from Muslim-dominated countries, including Indonesia, Turkey, and Bangladesh, to occupy the capital. American troops would probably not be included.
The NYT and WSJ both report that the United States wants the next stage of the war, taking the south, to be a political—not military—campaign. Specifically, officials are hoping that news of the Taliban's collapse in the north will embolden Pashtun tribal leaders in the south to turn against the Taliban.
In an effort to achieve a blissful state of total accuracy, Today's Papers often cross-checks its facts in multiple papers. (Through extensive experimentation, it has been concluded that this method is superior to calling sources at 3 a.m.) Nonetheless, Saturday's TP quoted a NYT editorial claiming that "11,000-plus people" have been detained in the United States' anti-terrorism efforts. That would be accurate, except for the extra zero. It's about 1,100 people.
In another story that day, this one about aircraft carriers, the paper reported that the Navy is considering "slowing the retirement of the Constitution." That's good, because the Constitution, better known as "Old Ironsides," serves a vital purpose. Built in 1797, it's a floating museum in Boston. The paper probably meant to refer to the aircraft carrier Constellation. The Times has not yet run a correction on either item.