Tom Bowman

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Colin Powell became a household name because of the four stars on his Army uniform and his iconic statements about Iraq.

In the first Iraq war in 1991, he famously described what the U.S. would do to the Iraqi army that had invaded neighboring Kuwait: "We're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it."

Such chilling bravado — and the subsequent victory over Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein — made him one of the most formidable and admired public figures.

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The Dulles Expo Center outside Washington, D.C., is usually reserved for home and garden or gun shows. Now the cavernous center hosts thousands of Afghan refugees. It's wall to wall with cots and now includes a medical center and cafeteria — serving halal food — for the steady stream of people.

There are stacks of pillows and blankets, and soldiers and government workers walk through the crowd of men and women in traditional garb.

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Thousands of refugees from the war in Afghanistan have now arrived in the United States. Most land in Virginia and are brought to the Dulles Expo Center, a cavernous building just outside of Washington, D.C.

NPR's Tom Bowman covered the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan's war from the beginning to now, and he has an exclusive look inside the facility.

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The war in Afghanistan ended quietly today with military transport planes flying the last remaining soldiers out of Hamid Karzai International Airport a few hours before dawn.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

The quick collapse of the Afghan National Army stunned many, including the Pentagon's top military officer, Gen. Mark Milley. He told reporters this week that the U.S. intelligence community estimated that if U.S. forces withdrew, it would be weeks, months, even years before the Afghan military fell to the Taliban.

Instead, it was just 11 days.

So what happened? How could U.S. officials be so wrong?

The U.S. will begin flying Afghan nationals who supported U.S. and coalition operations in Afghanistan, according to a senior Biden administration official. Evacuation flights will begin in the last week of July.

During the 20-year war in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghan citizens served as interpreters, provided intelligence and assisted the U.S. and its coalition partners as drivers, security guards and in other roles.

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Updated July 6, 2021 at 5:35 PM ET

Five days after the final U.S. troops left Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is defending itself from criticism by Afghan military officials who have accused the U.S. of secretly slipping out overnight, shutting off the electricity and prompting a security lapse that allowed looters to scavenge the facilities before Afghan troops were able to retake control.

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President Biden stood in the Roosevelt Room at the White House and declared the end of U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan. He spoke from the same spot where former President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the war 20 years ago with a bombing campaign.

"It's time to end America's longest war," Biden said. "It's time for American troops to come home."

On a recent weekday, some three dozen Marines and civilians filed into an auditorium at Henderson Hall, a Marine support center on a hill above the Pentagon.

They were there to talk about extremism in the ranks.

They reviewed their oath to defend against any enemy foreign or domestic, learned about active service members arrested for stockpiling weapons as members of neo-Nazi and other extremist groups, and took part in a wide-ranging discussion that included race, values and how to report suspicious activity.

The Chinese pilots push the throttles on their heavy bombers as the music in the video builds to dramatic, Hollywood-style swirling strings. Radios crackle while the planes rise and stream across the ocean. Suddenly, missiles unleash with a whoosh. Fireballs and bouncing debris rise from the targets: Hawaii and Guam.

US SYRIA STRIKE

Feb 26, 2021

The U.S. has carried out an airstrike in Syria against an Iranian-backed militia target. The move appears to be in response to a series of rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.

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So what are the options as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets his counterparts by video conference? NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has covered the Afghanistan war for many years and is on the line once again. Tom, good morning.

Less than two weeks after hundreds of rioters — including current and former service members — converged on the Capitol and broke through the doors, threatened lawmakers and injured and killed police, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin appeared before a Senate committee for his confirmation hearing.

"The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies," he told members of the Armed Services Committee. "But we can't do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks."

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Donald Trump campaigned hard on military issues.

He vowed to bring "endless wars" to a close, "rebuild" the fighting forces and compel allies to pay their fair share, saying the U.S. would no longer be "suckers."

That message resonated among voters and helped propel him to the White House in the 2016 election. Among troops, he seemed to enjoy fairly strong support. A Military Times poll showed that 46% had a favorable view of him at the start of his term, 10 points higher than President Barack Obama had in January 2017.

Updated at 10:15 p.m. ET

By choosing Lloyd Austin to be his defense secretary, President-elect Joe Biden is making history.

Austin, a retired four-star Army general and West Point graduate, would be the first African-American to lead the Pentagon, the world's largest employer with more than 2.2 million servicemembers and a civilian work force that numbers more than 700,000.

In the past 10 days, President Trump has fired the defense secretary as part of a leadership shake-up at the Pentagon. His administration has announced troop cutbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the president huddled with his national security team and discussed possible military action against Iran.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has been "terminated," President Trump wrote in a tweet, and will be replaced by Christopher C. Miller, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

"Chris will do a GREAT job," Trump tweeted shortly after noon. "Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service."

Sources say Esper already had a resignation letter ready to go — because Trump threatened to fire him in June over a disagreement about using active duty troops to quell street protests — and had recently updated it.

Nov. 3 promises to be an Election Day unlike any other, and public safety entities say they're preparing for tensions and the possibility of violence.

Poll workers are usually the first line of defense in case of disputes between voters, though they may be backed up by private security guards. Some local election authorities say they'll be adding guards, and Washington state's King County says it will post guards to ballot drop boxes that in other years have been unattended.

After nearly two decades of fighting, the Trump administration is trying to bring an abrupt end to the war in Afghanistan, and the U.S. military is trying to manage that end effectively.

Last week, President Trump tweeted that American troops "should" be home from Afghanistan by Christmas, while National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said in a Las Vegas speech that the number of troops there will drop to 2,500 early next year.

Nearly 500 national security experts – both civilians and former senior uniformed officers — have endorsed Joe Biden for president, saying the "current president" is not up to "the enormous responsibilities of his office."

Addressed to "Our Fellow Citizens," the 489 national security experts include 22 four-star officers. The letter never mentions President Trump by name.

Agi Hajduczki, a research scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, opens a large freezer and takes out boxes of DNA. She is part of a team making a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hajduczki places a small, clear plastic tray under a piece of white paper on the table of her lab. The tray is dimpled. Pale yellow fluid can be seen under the dozens of dimples.

Some of the dimples are clearly more yellow than others.

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