The Los Angeles Timesleads with Pentagon reports that U.S. forces have struck a military compound in eastern Afghanistan, where it's believed Taliban and al-Qaida forces may have been regrouping. The New York Timesmentions the attack in its lead but focuses on where Taliban leaders might be hiding and whether they are bribing their way out of Afghanistan. The Washington Postand the Wall Street Journalboth lead with developments outside Afghanistan, where escalating U.S. action around Somalia suggests a possible al-Qaida presence in the lawless African nation. USA Todayleads with Miami's victory in the Rose Bowl.
The NYT lead reports that American officials are concerned that the slow rate of surrender might be a sign that Taliban soldiers are finding ways to elude opposition troops. The Bush administration worries that the Afghan provisional government might not have enough central control as of yet to disarm the Taliban. Confusion, including multiple anti-Taliban parties competing for the surrender of the same Taliban commanders, could offer opportunity for Taliban holdouts to scheme their way out of the region.
Looking to where Taliban and al-Qaida forces may be escaping, the WP and WSJ leads focus on increased U.S. attention towards Somalia. The WP reports that NATO forces have stepped up military reconnaissance flights and other surveillance activities in Somalia, while the WSJ pays attention to the naval blockade along the country's 1,800-mile coastline. Will the next U.S. military campaign be in the nation of Black Hawk Down fame? The WSJ doesn't ask, while the WP suggests Marines may be called upon for "large-scale raids," before citing a handful of U.S. officials who downplay the developments.
USAT is the only paper to note that the U.S. military is preparing for its first prolonged stay in a former Soviet Union republic. American warplanes and troops from the 101st Airborne Division will be setting up base in Kyrgyzstan as early as next week, a senior Pentagon official says. The move may strain relations with Russia and China, both uncomfortable with an extended U.S. presence in central Asia.
The WSJ reports that Arab leaders are considering what to do once the U.S. takes on Iraq, a mission most in the Middle East now see as "inevitable." Arab countries are expected to fall into line once this happens, and observers in the region wonder what sort of direction they should then promote. Analysts from Saudi Arabia and Jordan say the United States must make certain of Saddam Hussein's removal this time, but Iraq's neighbors, led by Turkey, may quietly push the United States to also consider actions that won't unintentionally bolster Iran's hand.
USAT leads and the LAT above-the-folds Miami's crushing victory over Nebraska in the controversial Rose Bowl, putting to rest any uncertainty over whether there will be a split national championship. With the score already 34-0 by halftime, USAT remarks, "Televisions all over the country must have clicked over to CSI to feel at least some semblance of suspense." The LAT counts Miami's win as a partial victory for the BCS formula, which pitted the ultimate champion against an opponent many grumbled shouldn't have been there in the first place. USAT, on the other hand, notes that the victory will give No. 2 ranked Oregon another reason to gripe at the computer system which had them at No. 4, remarking, "Clearly, the humans were right."
The papers all front news that federal prosecutors will not be filing charges against New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, ending a three-year probe into illegal campaign contributions. The matter will now be passed along to the Senate Ethics Committee. The papers agree on the decision's major ramification—Torricelli will almost certainly be re-elected to his seat later this year, and Democrats have a better shot at keeping Senate control—but differ on how high to mention it: The NYT stuffs this angle of the story onto the fourth page of its metro section, while the LAT mentions it in the story's opening paragraph.
Everyone reefers the passing of Clinton's dog, Buddy. Buddy, who USAT notes in its lede "seemed to be [Clinton's] only friend in Washington," was killed by a car accident Wednesday afternoon near the Clintons' home in Chappaqua, N.Y. The WP gets lyrical about the matter, writing, "Buddy was a fine dog, a man's dog, nothing precious or fussy about him." All the papers note the driver of the car, a high school student, won't be charged. Nobody mentions what the crime could possibly be.