Tom Bowman

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

In his current role, Bowman has traveled to 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.

Once a mob began attacking the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, officials in Washington, D.C., watched with alarm. Now, new details are emerging about their response to the deadly attack.

President Obama and his entire national security team monitored what was going on half a world away. Army Gen. Carter Ham, who was the regional commander for Africa, happened to be in Washington that day.

America's exit strategy in Afghanistan is to have Afghan forces take the lead in fighting for their country. But too often these days, the job still falls to U.S. troops.

A senior officer in Afghanistan tells NPR that Americans continue to coddle Afghan forces and that this must stop. Tough love is in, the officer says. He says the Afghan forces are far more capable than the U.S. estimates and have simply grown accustomed to the U.S. doing everything for them.

That pretty much sums up the situation in southern Afghanistan earlier this year.

President Obama said during Monday night's debate that the U.S. Army has fewer horses and bayonets than in the past.

That's true. Although Army Special Forces were on horseback in Afghanistan when they helped defeat the Taliban in 2001, the Army's horses are now used only for ceremonial occasions.

As for bayonets? The last bayonet charge was during the Korean War in 1951.

The bayonet has somewhat gone the way of the horse cavalry, as far as the Army is concerned (although Marines still use bayonets in training).

The second of two female Marines who tried to make it through the grueling Infantry Officer Course has failed due to medical reasons. The female volunteers are part of a study by the Marines to see if women can become ground combat leaders.

The Marines have not released the names of either woman, citing privacy concerns.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce during a meeting of NATO defense leaders in Brussels Wednesday that Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford will be nominated to succeed Gen. John Allen as the top commander in Afghanistan, according to a defense official familiar with the decision.

How does a president bring the war in Afghanistan to an end? There are 68,000 American troops serving in the country as the war enters its 12th year.

The war hasn't been a major issue in the presidential campaign, and polls show American voters are tiring of the war. But the next commander in chief will find the Afghan war among the most difficult of many foreign policy challenges.

Both President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney appear to agree on a date: the last day of December 2014. That's when the Afghan security forces are scheduled to takeover.

Women in the U.S. military have been flying warplanes for years, and recently began serving in artillery and tank units. But they're still barred from direct ground combat.

Now, for the first time in the course's 35-year history, the Marine Corps is putting the first women through its grueling Infantry Officer Course: 86 days crawling through obstacle courses, lugging heavy machine guns, navigating the woods at night.

Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, the top trainer at Marine Base Quantico in Virginia, says there's a good reason the course is so tough that 1 in 5 Marines fail.

On this morning 150 years ago, Union and Confederate troops clashed at the crossroads town of Sharpsburg, Md. The Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest single day in American history.

The battle left 23,000 men killed or wounded in the fields, woods and dirt roads, and it changed the course of the Civil War.

It is called simply the Cornfield, and it was here, in the first light of dawn that Union troops — more than 1,000 — crept toward the Confederate lines. The stalks were at head level and shielded their movements.

Gunmen wearing Afghan police and army uniforms have killed 40 U.S. and NATO troops so far this year, and the top American commander in Afghanistan says there is no single reason — and no simple solution.

Taliban infiltrators, disputes between NATO and Afghan security forces, and even the timing of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, are all factors, according to Gen. John Allen.

"We think the reasons for these attacks are complex," says Allen, who spoke by video link from Kabul on Thursday. Ten of the American deaths have come in just the past two weeks.

The top officer in the U.S. Air Force, Gen. Norton Schwartz, is stepping down Friday after four years on the job.

Schwartz got the job after his predecessor was fired for — among other things — clashing with his Pentagon bosses over how many fighter jets the military needs.

Schwartz is most likely to be remembered for pushing another kind of aircraft: drones.

At this moment, dozens of these unmanned aircraft are flying high above Afghanistan.

Just don't call them drones when speaking with Schwartz.

"Deathly afraid."

That's what one U.S. official says about the prospect that Syria's vast stockpile of chemical weapons might be used against rebel forces. From a U.S. national security standpoint, an even worse outcome would be for those weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists.

A very small percentage of Americans are now serving in the military — fewer than 1 percent. Some are looking for direction. Others are inspired by a sense of patriotism or by a family member who served in an earlier war. On this Independence Day, we continue with an occasional series, Those Who Serve, a look at the men and women wearing their country's uniform during a time of war.

Capt. Jared Larpenteur is from Cajun Country in Louisiana. His family never expected he'd make the military his career.

(NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan this month. On Morning Edition, he reported from the eastern province of Ghazni about what's being called "the last major combat offensive of the Afghan War." Now, he tells us about his interview with the No. 2 U.S. officer in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti.)

Several thousand soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division are taking part in what is being called the last major combat offensive of the Afghan War.

Their task is to clear Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold and a key prize because it straddles the major roads to Kabul and the insurgent supply routes into Pakistan.

But the American troops are challenged by a stubborn enemy and a short time to finish the job.

If there was a place in Afghanistan synonymous with the Taliban, it was the district of Marjah in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand.

Two years ago, thousands of U.S. Marines and British and Afghan forces descended on this checkerboard of villages, canals and fields. They pushed out the insurgents — but at a heavy cost.

Now, with U.S. combat forces on track to depart in the coming months, many are asking whether Marjah's relative peace will last after the Marines are gone.

'We Have Good Security Here'

Inside a plywood shack at a combat outpost in Marjah, in Afghanistan's Helmand province, three Marines sit before a bank of computers provided by the military to help keep up morale. The dingy outpost is made up of a collection of tents where troops live among swarms of flies and the constant hum of generators.

Sgt. J.P. Huling, a Marine from Ohio, was killed this month in southern Afghanistan.

It wasn't a roadside bomb or a Taliban sniper that killed him. It was another sergeant — an Afghan soldier known as Sgt. Zabitollah, who like many Afghans went by one name.

It was a grim coincidence that brought these two sergeants together on May 6, a Sunday afternoon, at a mud-walled compound along a desolate stretch of road in a remote corner of Afghanistan.

The American military has two main jobs now in Afghanistan: sweeping the remaining Taliban from safe havens and getting Afghan security forces to take charge in the fight.

On a recent day, the Afghan National Army, or ANA, is to be out front on a joint Afghan-U.S. patrol in the countryside outside Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. It may seem like a small thing, but it's actually a big deal.

Sgt. Matthew McMurray lets his platoon know.

"ANA is going to lead, too. If they don't want to lead, just stop and make them walk ahead of you," he says.

Just outside Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military is starting a new program it hopes will wean Afghan troops off American assistance.

A dozen or so American soldiers make up one of the Security Force Assistance Teams, and the goal is to help the Afghan army plan for operations and supply itself in the field.

But the mission is still a work in progress.

When President Obama on Tuesday signed a 10-year security agreement with Afghan President Karzai, it wasn't announced how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2014 — the year Afghans are supposed to take over full responsibilty for security there.

There's some soul-searching going on in the military these days.

The latest scandal to hit U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan surfaced last week when The Los Angeles Times published photographs showing smiling American soldiers holding up body parts of a Taliban suicide bomber.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the latest incident during a trip to Brussels.

"That behavior that was depicted in those photos absolutely violates both our regulations and, more importantly, our core values," he said last week after a NATO meeting.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. Murder charges have been filed against the U.S. Army Sergeant accused of killing 17 Afghan men, women and children. Now, an investigative officer will decide whether there's enough evidence to go forward with a court martial. NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, walks us through the legal challenges ahead for the defense and the prosecution.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We've spent much of the weekend trying to understand a nightmare moment of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. An American soldier apparently walked off his post and killed 16 Afghan men, women and children. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales - we know his name now - is being held in solitary confinement in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been gathering details of the shooter's life, and he's on the line now. And, Tom, what have you learned?

The killings of some 16 civilians in Afghanistan on Sunday allegedly by a U.S. soldier are raising new questions about U.S. military strategy: whether the surge of American troops worked, and whether the U.S. troops have won over the Afghan people or alienated them.

The place where the killings happened was a "no-go zone" for American and even Afghan troops as recently as two years ago — it was Taliban country.

The question hanging over Washington for months has been this: Will Israel strike the Iranian nuclear program?

The Obama administration seems to have bought some time this week after rounds of meetings and speeches with Israeli officials in Washington.

Still, the president assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. will do all in its power to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

So the military option is still on the table.

At the Fort Polk military base in the pine forests of central Louisiana, the Army has created a miniature version of Afghanistan — with mock villages and American soldiers working alongside Afghan role-players.

This is the training ground for a new American approach in Afghanistan as the U.S. begins to look ahead to the goal of bringing home the U.S. forces by the end of 2014. The idea is that Afghan forces have to be good enough to defend their country against the Taliban, and to make that happen, the U.S. Army is creating small U.S. training teams at Fort Polk.

The violence against U.S. forces in Afghanistan has called into question the American exit strategy, which is set to play out steadily over the next three years.

It was only a few weeks ago that the second-ranking American military officer in Afghanistan laid out a new phase of that strategy. Small groups of U.S. advisers would team up with larger Afghan units to train them, said Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti.

The first of these U.S. assistance teams will head into Afghanistan this spring to train Afghan police and soldiers.

At the White House on Tuesday, President Obama greeted China's Vice President Xi Jinping and called for cooperation between the two nations.

Later in the day, the Chinese vice president crossed the Potomac to visit the Pentagon, where the U-S military may hope for cooperation, but has to plan for possible confrontation.

The Pentagon's new budget request, unveiled Monday, signals a shift for the US military, with a greater focus on the Pacific.

China is building more ships and aircraft, and is now patrolling hundreds of miles out into the Pacific.

American commanders in Afghanistan are preparing for a major shift in their mission this year.

U.S. troops are expected to move away from their lead role in combat operations in most areas. Instead, they'll advise Afghan forces to take the lead in both operations and security duties throughout much of Afghanistan.

The nation's top military officer, Gen. Martin Dempsey, is in Israel where he's expected to send a clear message: Don't attack Iran, and let the tougher sanctions take hold.

Dempsey's trip to Israel was scheduled weeks ago, but it comes at a particularly sensitive time. Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the key route for oil shipments, and has stepped up its naval activities.

An Iranian nuclear scientist was recently killed by a drive-by assassin, and Iran is blaming Israel.

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