Everybody leads with al-Qaida's shrinking real-estate holdings in Tora Bora. The United States has dropped a "withering" 400 bombs on the area over the past two days, providing stirring support for anti-Taliban forces on the ground, according to the Los Angeles Times. " 'Surrounded' probably is not a terribly good word," U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks says in the New York Times, "but the view of the opposition leaders on the ground is that this al-Qaida force is contained in that area." And yet the suspense continues to build and the $64,000 question remains: Where, exactly, is Osama Bin Laden?
There's one cave in particular that has captured the imaginations of Afghan fighters on the ground. "We found it, we see it, and we're trying to reach it," an anti-Taliban commander says in the LAT. That's where he, and others like him, believe Osama Bin Laden is hiding. Yet Tommy Franks remains noncommittal. "You see all sorts of conflicting information," he says in the NYT. "So it's probably not a good idea to say with some certainty where he is. But we know where our current fight is, and that's in the Tora Bora area."
The papers agree that al-Qaida doesn't have a lot left—the Washington Postuses the phrase "last stand." The paper reports that there are sharp divisions within the terrorist group: Some ("as many as 300") want to surrender, while others seem prepared to fight to the death. Indeed, it is the intensity of the fighting that has lead some anti-Taliban commanders to conclude that Bin Laden is in the area. "They're fighting as if they're protecting something very important," says one senior U.S. military officer, in the NYT.
If he is where we think he is, can he still escape? It depends whom you ask. Anti-Taliban forces are about a "three-hour walk" from the mountain ridge held by al-Qaida, according to the Post. A heavily forested mountain plan lies on the other side of that ridge. "Ten thousand people could go into that forest and you could never find them," says one Afghan commander. "They cannot escape. The mujahideen have blocked the road," says another. U.S. forces are reportedly patrolling the Pakistani border as well.
Incidentally, we know that the otherwise-invisible U.S. Special Forces and/or Delta Force soldiers are engaged in the battle in the mountains because of the "tell-tail trail of piles of plastic Poland Spring mineral water bottles" they leave behind, according to the NYT lead.
Asked if he wanted Bin Laden captured or killed, President Bush said, "I don't care. Dead or alive, either way. I mean, it doesn't matter to me." The quote appears in all three papers.
"A new form of Israeli counterterrorism" resulted in the arrests of 18 Palestinian militants and the killing of eight, a NYT fronter reports. "Stealthy" troops raided four West Bank cities before dawn on Friday, overwhelming "astonished" Palestinian security personnel. All this happened as Israeli warplanes resumed bombing in the Gaza Strip. This escalation of Israeli might comes in response to the killing of 10 Israelis by Palestinian gunmen on Wednesday.
A smart analysis of the gap in income between the wealthiest Americans and "everyone else"—a level of inequality higher than in any other industrialized nation—finds its way onto the NYT art pages. Some numbers from the 90s boom economy suggest that those good old days weren't so hot for most of us. "Forty-seven percent of the total real income gain between 1983 and 1998 accrued to the top 1 percent of income recipients, 42 percent went to the next 19 percent, and 12 percent accrued to the bottom 80 percent," writes the author of a book called Top Heavy. "There is no doubt that market forces have spoken in favor of more inequality," says a Harvard economist. What is to be done? Depends whom you ask. "The question is whether you lean against the wind of the market to try to preserve decent living standards for working and poor people," says the Harvard guy. The split is about what you'd expect: Conservative economists say let's leave well enough alone, while liberals want to lend a helping hand.
It's liar, liar, pants on fire at Notre Dame, which accepted on Friday the resignation of the football coach they'd hired on Sunday, one George O'Leary. If that's really his name. According to a NYT fronter, O'Leary had, over the years, told at least two whoppers that were included in the media guides of the various teams he coached. Notre Dame included the misinformation in its press release welcoming O'Leary from Georgia Tech. The lies? First, that he had lettered in football three times at the University of New Hampshire (he was never on the team), and second, that he had earned a master's degree in education from NYU (he had not). Upon hearing of the UNH fib, ND officials stood by their man, at first refusing his resignation. But when asked if he might have uttered any other untruths, O'Leary admitted that he'd never set foot in Washington Square, and that was that. Now ND is really screwed: They'd rushed to hire O'Leary because recruitment season ends in February. Now they have no one.