Everybody leads with a roundup of the war in Afghanistan. One day after the papers reported that the attack on caves in Tora Bora had stalled, the Washington Postheadlines: AL QAEDA'S FORCES FLEE CAVES FOR MOUNTAINS. The New York Times'slead focuses on Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's declaration that the Taliban "are defeated," although the paper points out that the "war goes on." The Los Angeles Timesleads with Wolfowitz saying that Osama is a "man on the run." USA Today's lead emphasizes that more Marine "hunter-killer" teams have moved to cut off escape routes out of Kandahar. The Wall Street Journaltops its worldwide newsbox with word that Afghan opposition forces say they have captured several high-level Taliban officials, including the head of the Taliban's army. (The NYT says that Pentagon officials confirmed the nabbing.)
The papers note that as part of its effort to let al-Qaida know that it's worn out its welcome, the United States dropped its largest conventional bomb, a 15,000-pound flower named the "Daisy Cutter," on top of one of the caves. The Journal quotes one official saying the result wasn't all that. The effect was "good, but I wouldn't call it spectacular," he said.
"All [al-Qaida forces] have left is the top of the mountain," said the region's top anti-Taliban officer, commander Ali. The papers are still a bit skeptical that the end is near. The NYT says that the caves captured yesterday "appeared likely to be the same set of smaller storage caves in the lower hills that they had captured on the first day of fighting last week, but then lost." And then there's the conflicting info about what's going on, sometimes from the same person. "There was no resistance," insisted commander Ali, who then issued a slight revision, "They resisted for a long time."
The papers add that it's still not clear where Bin Laden is. A Pentagon spokesperson, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, said that reports on Bin Laden's location were "very fragmentary" and "not very reliable."
Rummy Jr., aka Wolfowitz, warned that the Afghans aren't necessarily interested in sending their high-level Taliban prisoners to U.S. authorities. Nor, he said, are they too enthused over capturing more of them. Thus, he said, "The American people have to be prepared for the fact that we may be hunting Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan months from now."
The papers each note that Wolfowitz also gave another reason why our troops may be hanging around for months. "It's a classic military mistake to leave a partially defeated enemy on the battlefield in one form or another," he said. The papers miss an opportunity to add a bit of context to the quote: Wolfowitz is the administration's most vocal proponent of finishing off the last enemy we left "partially defeated," Saddam Hussein.
The papers report that Britain is set to lead a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. The contingent will also include troops from, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, Turkey, Bangladesh, Jordan, and elsewhere (though not the United States). They will patrol around Kabul and perhaps elsewhere. The NYT does a great job of explaining the force's remaining sticky wicket: Some in the White House and Pentagon want the peacekeeping troops to report to Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces. The Brits aren't thrilled with that idea.
The WP reports that the White House has decided to release the tape of Bin Laden in which he makes clear that he knew about the Sept. 11 attacks beforehand. The other papers aren't so sure. The Post says the administration is now wrestling with the next big question: subtitled or dubbed? (If the latter, who gets to play the voice of Osama Bin Laden?)
The WP stuffs a report from Afghanistan's Ghanzi province, "a lawless place controlled neither by the Taliban nor the Northern Alliance." The Post says that while the north is controlled by warlords who are at least loosely affiliated with each other, "Ghazni illustrates what is happening in much of southern Afghanistan, as the lower half of the country reverts to feudalism in the absence of any central authority."
Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan's interim government, said his country needs lots of international aid to rebuild. Specifically, Karzai said, "U.S. help is critical. Please do not turn away again."
The papers report on the release of a study that found that Gulf War veterans are twice as likely as other veterans to contract Lou Gehrig's disease. For years now, some veterans of the war have complained that they were exposed to something in the Gulf that made them sick. But until now, there are never been a definitive connection. Scientists warned that the study still hasn't faced peer review. And while a doubling may seem epidemic-worthy, out of 700,000 Gulf War veterans, only 40 have contracted the illness.
The papers report that Israeli choppers fired missiles at a car in a crowded intersection in an attempt to assassinate Muhammad Sidir, who Israel says is a local leader of Islamic Jihad and was masterminding a massive suicide bombing. Sidir was wounded but escaped. The missiles, though, killed two boys, one 2 years old, the other 13. "The head of the [younger] boy was in the street," said one witness. "His legs were in different places. We collected his body."
In a phenomenon that deserves to be dissected, the NYT briefly mentions a poll that found that 74 percent of Israelis back their government's policy of assassinating suspected terrorists—while 76 percent also said that the tactic would have no effect on terrorism or would even increase it.