A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier was killed—the first American taken by hostile fire since the war began—and a CIA agent seriously wounded during a brief firefight in eastern Afghanistan—and all the papers lead with it. The Washington Postprovides the most lucid narrative, though, like the others, they don't know exactly who fired upon the Americans. The New York Timesreports that there may be a bounty on American soldiers, making them attractive targets for Taliban and al-Qaida stragglers.
"It was fast, and it was intense," says an unnamed U.S. defense official in the Post, referring to the attack. According to the paper, American soldiers, including Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman, the victim, had just left a meeting with Afghan officials outside of Khost, near the Pakistani border, when they were hit with small-arms fire—meaning machine guns and rifles. The American soldiers returned fire. "I don't know if any of the bad guys were wounded or killed during that exchange," Tommy Franks said, from Tampa. A Special Forces reaction team was called in by helicopter, but by the time they arrived, the "bad guys" had fled.
The Los Angeles Timesis alone in plainly stating the obvious: "The incident was a reminder that the Pentagon's precision-bombing techniques and other advanced technology have enabled the U.S. to wage massive military campaigns with remarkably few casualties." Nonetheless, the paper observes, the killing, at this late date, underscores the ongoing threat to American soldiers as they try to put the finishing touches on the war.
Zacarias Moussaoui, alleged terrorist, wants his trial on must-see TV, according to a WP fronter. Court TV and C-Span are drooling over the prospect, but it probably won't happen. Prosecutors say the broadcast would endanger the safety of witnesses. Plus, cameras aren't allowed in federal courts, a "rule" Court TV says is unconstitutional, the Post reports. The Senate has passed a bill allowing victims' families to watch the October trial on closed-circuit, a service extended previously to those affected by the Oklahoma City bombing.
The NYT fronts the Salvation Army's mom-and-pop operation being overrun by paper after it offered to pay household bills—of any stripe—for Sept. 11 families. Thousands poured in and, with their dot-matrix printers only capable of producing 100 checks per day, the Army got swamped. A widow's car insurance was cancelled, a man got an eviction notice, thousands of payments were late. Army staff began paying bills with their personal credit cards and applying for reimbursement. The agency has since spent some of its Sept. 11 dough on upgrading their systems—money the director considers "well spent, even if it is not exactly how donors might have imagined their gifts would be spent," the NYT reports.
Everybody stuffs the new unemployment figures—we're up to 5.8%, with another 124,000 jobs out the window, according to the LAT. The numbers might have been worse were it not for unexpected hiring in health and government, the paper reports. "The new numbers are pretty ugly," says a LA economist. "They show the economy wasn't declining as fast in December as it did in previous months, but it was still declining." White-collar and college-educated workers suffered the steepest losses.
The Post fronts a practically life-size, full-color photo of Michael Jordan, on the occasion of his 30,000th point, which he scored last night against his old teammates, the Bulls. It seems covering basketball in D.C. is no longer such a bad gig. One could imagine, in less troubled times, his airness commanding the entire front page, rather than just half. And just for the record, the Redskins also get a nice chunk of the front—the off-lead, in fact—with a story about their pursuit of a new head coach.
The NYT, meanwhile, is a little Buddy-heavy, with both an op-ed and a letter devoted to the former first pup. The letter writer is a big "invisible fence" advocate from Scarsdale who chides the Clintons for failing to keep Buddy confined, humanely, on their Chappaqua property. The op-ed eulogist is a former White House speechwriter who provides a little presidential dead-dog history: "Lyndon B. Johnson's beagle Him was struck and killed by a car in 1966. A century earlier, Abraham Lincoln's dog Fido was actually stabbed to death by a man in Springfield, Ill." No invisible fence in either case, one assumes.
Finally, the LAT has the inevitable collision between AIDS prevention groups and conservative Republicans. At issue, ostensibly, is the use of CDC money to fund sexually explicit ads and workshops, such as the "Great Sex Workshop" and "Booty Call," just to name two run recently by the Stop AIDS Project in San Francisco. Inspector General Janet Rehnquist, Bill's daughter, says the workshops promote sex and are therefore inconsistent with the guidelines of the CDC, which gave Stop AIDS $698,000 in 2000. "At some point, you have to say: What are we getting for our money?" opines U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, a doctor who treated AIDS patients in SF in the '80s. One presumes that, had Rehnquist and Weldon actually been in attendance, the workshops' sex quotient might well have been diminished.