Listen

Tom Bowman

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.

In his current role, Bowman has traveled to Syria as well as Iraq and Afghanistan often for month-long visits and embedded with U.S. Marines and soldiers.

Before coming to NPR in April 2006, Bowman spent nine years as a Pentagon reporter at The Baltimore Sun. Altogether he was at The Sun for nearly two decades, covering the Maryland Statehouse, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the National Security Agency (NSA). His coverage of racial and gender discrimination at NSA led to a Pentagon investigation in 1994.

Initially Bowman imagined his career path would take him into academia as a history, government, or journalism professor. During college Bowman worked as a stringer at The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass. He also worked for the Daily Transcript in Dedham, Mass., and then as a reporter at States News Service, writing for the Miami Herald and the Anniston (Ala.) Star.

Bowman is a co-winner of a 2006 National Headliners' Award for stories on the lack of advanced tourniquets for U.S. troops in Iraq. In 2010, he received an Edward R. Murrow Award for his coverage of a Taliban roadside bomb attack on an Army unit.

Bowman earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vermont, and a master's degree in American Studies from Boston College.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Why did Bob Neller join the Marines?

"I needed a job," the top Marine officer says nonchalantly.

He went to Officer Candidate School the summer before his senior year at the University of Virginia with the intention of then going to law school.

"The law school thing didn't work out," he recalls, "and I wanted to get married, and my parents were getting divorced, and I didn't have any money. And the Marine Corps said, 'Hey come do this for 2 1/2 years.' And I said, 'Sure.' "

It stretched to 44 years.

President Trump will nominate acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan as secretary of defense, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Thursday.

"Acting Secretary Shanahan has proven over the last several months that he is beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defense, and he will continue to do an excellent job," Sanders tweeted.

President Trump has said he wants to move away from "endless wars," and suggested cutting half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Now the State Department is looking at cuts of its own in Afghanistan.

NPR has obtained talking points written by staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. It says the embassy is too big and calls for a "comprehensive review" to determine that it's "right-sized for the long-term."

Here's a key paragraph in the one-page document.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Pentagon is sending thousands more active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Orders were signed today for an initial deployment of 2,400 troops with more to follow. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now with more. Hi, Tom.

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

The White House is working to identify federal dollars that could be redirected to construct a border wall, if President Trump invokes his emergency powers to do so.

Updated at 6:35 p.m. ET

More troops are expected to be deployed to the Southern border to construct or upgrade 160 miles of fencing and provide medical care to a steady stream of migrant families arriving from Central America, according to military sources.

The deployment and fence construction along the California and Arizona borders would be paid for by the Pentagon, from the Department of Defense's discretionary funding.

In 2018, Afghanistan bled. Violence claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 civilians between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, the highest number in that same period since 2014. The death toll of Afghan security forces — which some estimates put at more than 9,000 this year, between 25 and 30 deaths a day — has been called "unsustainable" by the U.S. military.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the service's top officer who was nominated Saturday by President Trump to be the next Joint Chiefs chairman, is a rarity among senior military officers. He did not attend one of the service academies, but is an Ivy League graduate.

And he played on Princeton's hockey team.

Updated at 7:25 p.m. ET

The Department of Homeland Security has asked several federal agencies to send civilian law enforcement officers to the border, according to a DHS official. These agencies include the Departments of State, Justice, Energy, Transportation, Labor and Interior, the DHS official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

President Trump is expected to extend the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to the U.S.-Mexico border into January rather than withdrawing the personnel in the middle of December, Pentagon officials tell NPR. The move would further extend the rare deployment of active-duty troops at the Mexico border, rather than just National Guard personnel.

Now that the Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives, the question is this: Will there be more oversight of U.S. military operations?

One Capitol Hill aide told NPR that there likely will be greater focus by Democrats on the way ahead in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, where U.S. troops are on the ground, training local forces and going after terrorist enclaves.

Updated at 5:05 p.m. ET

The U.S. military will send approximately 5,000 support troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

The exact number could be slightly higher or lower, a Pentagon official told NPR. The official said the deployment is being done to support the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.

The uniformed troops are likely to be active-duty Army personnel, with perhaps some members of the Army Reserve and Marines. There are already 2,100 National Guard members deployed to the border.

The U.S. military command in Afghanistan has acknowledged that an American general was wounded during a deadly insider attack in the southern city of Kandahar last week. Initially, the command described him only as an "American service member."

On Thursday, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley was in a meeting at the Kandahar governor's compound with senior American and Afghan officials. Just before the meeting broke up, an Afghan guard suddenly turned his weapon on those present.

Until now, British historian Max Hastings has mostly focused his research on World War II. His collection of works includes some fine books, including Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 (one of my favorites).

But in his new tome, Hastings has taken on the Vietnam War.

The skinny boy says he's 12, though he looks years younger. He points to a crayon drawing he created this summer, when he arrived at a U.S. government-supported childcare center in Raqqa, Syria.

It's mostly colored in black. There's a tank. An aircraft. A crude figure of a man with a wispy beard holding an oversized gun.

"This is when ISIS shelled my home," he says. "My sister and niece were killed. Just like that, two missiles."

In the picture, there's a red tongue of flame rising from the roof of his home.

The Air Force must expand its operational squadrons by some 25 percent in the coming years, officials say, to deal with the growing military might of China and Russia and to protect the homeland and continue to fight violent extremists.

"What we know now from analysis, what everyone in this room knows by experience," said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson at a military conference outside Washington on Monday, is that "the Air Force is too small for what the nation expects of us."

Here's something to ponder: how do you define a war game? And when is it a military exercise, or just simply..."training."

That's at the heart of some confusion between the White House and the Pentagon, an institution that doesn't - unlike President Trump - use the term "war game."

The president suspended one large military exercise and a couple of smaller ones in a good faith gesture with North Korea in June, an effort to spur talks about the country's nuclear program.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At the White House today, President Trump presented a posthumous Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor, to the widow of Air Force Technical Sergeant John Chapman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Russian officials are saying the meeting in Helsinki between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin resulted in an agreement that includes cooperation between the two countries in Syria.

Speaking at a news conference next to Trump on Monday, Putin said establishing peace and reconciliation "could be the first showcase example of the successful joint work. Russia and the United States apparently can proactively take leadership on this issue," including overcoming the humanitarian crisis and helping Syrians go back to their homes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rushed into Syria three years ago in an effort to save his ally President Bashar Assad, now says he can work with the U.S. to bring peace and reconciliation to the war-torn country.

"As far as Syria is concerned," Putin said, standing next to President Trump at the Helsinki summit, "the task of establishing peace and reconciliation in this country could be the first showcase example of this successful joint work."

Garlin Conner never spoke to his wife about his actions outside Houssen, France, that brutal January day in 1945. And he never spoke about any the other battles he witnessed in North Africa or Sicily, and on to Italy, France and finally Germany.

He fought in 10 campaigns, took part in four amphibious landings. And he was wounded seven times.

"Many of the time he'd wake up in the night with nightmares," recalled Pauline Conner. "And after, I would wake him up, and he would go outside, sit on the porch and smoke cigarettes for hours at a time."

The Pentagon is being asked by the Department of Health and Human Services to provide temporary beds for up to 20,000 undocumented children. That bed space would be needed beginning in July and running through the end of the year.

Officials tell NPR that four bases are expected to provide space, including the Army's Fort Bliss base in El Paso, Texas. It's uncertain if there would be enough barracks space, so officials say that tents likely would have to be put up.

Just as darkness fell, Capt. Austin S. "Scott" Miller was hunkered down in a building in Mogadishu, Somalia, together with his soldiers from the U.S. Army's elite Delta Force.

It was Oct. 3, 1993, and a Black Hawk helicopter had just been downed by local militants in the battle of Mogadishu, what would become the core of the book and movie Black Hawk Down. Miller was awarded a Bronze Star with a valor device for the nearly day-long battle that left 18 Americans dead and 73 wounded — including Miller.

Copyright 2018 KPBS Radio. To see more, visit KPBS Radio.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

American troops have been stationed on the Korean Peninsula for nearly 70 years. More recently they've become something of a political football.

North Korea wants them out as part of any nuclear deal. South Korea wants them to stay to help with its defense. And President Trump is considering reducing their numbers to save money.

On Thursday, the Pentagon will release the results of an investigation into the deaths of four American soldiers who were ambushed last October by ISIS fighters in the African country of Niger. The attack raised questions about whether the soldiers had enough training and equipment, and whether they were taking too many risks in working with local forces in Africa.

NPR has obtained details of the yet-to-be-released report, which says there was no single failure, and no deficiency was the sole cause for the men's deaths outside the village of Tongo Tongo on Oct. 4, 2017.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Pages