Tom Bowman

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

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.

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."

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.

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.

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