The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today all lead with word that some still-undecided number of U.S. troops are, as the NYT puts it, "all but certain" to head into Liberia as part of a peacekeeping force to oversee a cease-fire. The Wall Street Journal, which said yesterday that the administration was leaning toward sending troops, tops its world-wide newsbox with Bush's call for Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down. The paper says Bush wants Taylor, who's been indicted for war crimes, gone before U.S. troops arrive. The Washington Post stuffs Liberia and leads with word that a judge moved sniper suspect John Boyd Malvo's trial from a D.C. suburb to a spot a few hundred miles south, citing concerns about Malvo's ability to get a fair trial near the capital. (For the curious: Malvo changed his middle name months ago.)
The U.S. is considering sending somewhere between 500-2,000 troops to Liberia, with the U.N.'s Kofi Annan calling for the higher figure. The Pentagon, concerned that the military is overcommitted, has opposed the deployment and now wants the smaller contingent. If it's the smaller number, one analyst told the NYT, the force would consist of officers and logistics units rather than combat troops. SecDef Rumsfeld, who the Post says is against sending a larger force, will make the final recommendation to the president, who is expected to announce a decision in the next day or so, before he heads to Africa Monday.
Citing various analysts and (anonymous) defense officials, the LAT downplays talk that Liberia will be a significant strain on the military. The proposed force is "chump change, that's way to the right of the decimal point," said overexposed, Zeligesque "military analyst" John Pike. Speaking of, look at which "space policy analyst" today's Post quotes about the shuttle program. (Glass houses note: TP likes Pike—he's even quoted him.)
The Post says the administration's appeal to get other countries to send troops to Iraq isn't going well. Of 70 countries asked to contribute, so far 10 have agreed to pitch in. And that's a problem, because with fully half the Army in Iraq, and other large numbers in Afghanistan, Korea, and elsewhere, the Pentagon "at the moment has no troops to replace many of those on extended deployments in Iraq." So, reader, how would you headline these seemingly important conclusions? The Post'sanswer: "BUSH UTTERS TAUNT ABOUT MILITANTS: 'BRING 'EM ON.' "
According to early-morning reports, at least seven soldiers have been wounded in attacks today. Another GI died yesterday of wounds he received a few days ago.
The WP fronts the rising number of blackouts plaguing Iraq, increasingly caused by saboteurs. "We're not going to solve anything here until we first find a way to get more electricity to the people," said one unnamed military official in Iraq. "Without it, you don't have security. You don't have an economy. What you do have is more anger, more frustration." (Did the official really need to say that on background?) Recently, armed men have burst into some power stations, not to loot them, but to demand that the power be turned back on.
Most of the papers front word that Israeli troops handed control of Bethlehem over to Palestinian forces, though they kept a cordon around the city and according to the Post actually tightened it. As the Journal notes, the pullout didn't involve "any major redeployment of troops," since Israeli soldiers only went into Bethlehem itself to patrol and conduct raids. Still, there's going to be a big difference: Under an agreement, Israeli troops are now barred from entering the town itself. Israel says it will ease the cordon as soon as Palestinian police act against militants.
The NYT plays up the continuing cordon, the existence of which prompted Bethlehem's mayor to call the pullback a "ceremonial withdrawal": "BETHLEHEM SHRUGS AS ISRAELIS LEAVE CITY TO ITS POLICE." The WP's story obviously mentions it too, but the headline skips it: "PALESTINIANS RESUME CONTROL OF BETHLEHEM." USAT also downplays the encirclement, not mentioning it until the article's penultimate paragraph.
Everybody mentions that in one break to the cease-fire, militants in Gaza fired three anti-tank missiles into a settlement, slightly wounding three people. A Palestinian militant was also killed yesterday by Israeli troops during a raid in which they said they were trying arrest him. The Post also mentions that Palestinians are demanding that Israel release the "5,000 to 8,000 political prisoners" currently being held [emphasis added]. Is that the right designation? If so, let's hear more about them.
The WP and LAT front and the NYT reefers, NASA's shakeup of the shuttle management team; three top managers were replaced. The NYT emphasizes one of the official's new jobs: He's going to head the independent safety office overseeing all NASA programs.
One day after the NYT did a Page One piece on anthrax-attacks "person of interest" Steven Hatfill, which cast further suspicions on him by trumpeting his work on a mockup of a bio-weapons lab, the Post goes inside with a different angle: According to military officials, Hatfill did a bang-up job on the lab. The head of the unit he worked with even wrote him a letter of commendation, this in May 2002, well afterhe came under suspicion for the attacks. According to the letter, Hatfill "consistently displayed unsurpassed technical expertise, unique resourcefulness, total dedication and consummate professionalism. I wish to express my most sincere gratitude to this ultimate biological weapons expert."