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After 15 Years, The State Of The War In Afghanistan


The war in Afghanistan is not getting the kind of attention that it used to. But 15 years on, the conflict there is still going. Over the next few days, we're going to hear about the state of the war from NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

He recently spent a month in the country on a reporting trip that claimed the lives of two of our colleagues, photographer David Gilkey and interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna, an Afghan journalist. Tom is with me in the studio. Hey, Tom.


GREENE: I guess the first question I have for you is - how hard was it to turn to the journalism after what happened there?

BOWMAN: You know, frankly, it wasn't all that hard, I mean, once we got David and Zabi home, once we knew we were safe. You wanted to focus on the journalism. That's why you went there in the first place. There's almost this fierce desire to finish these stories.

GREENE: David always talked about wanting to get back to that country. And he, like you, I mean, seemed even more determined recently because there was a feeling of a lot of Western journalists sort of pulling out and not telling the story of this war.

BOWMAN: That hit David especially hard - that everyone was leaving, that the networks wouldn't go anymore. You have some of the larger newspapers here. But people largely had forgotten about the story. Journalism had pretty much forgotten about it and then focused on ISIS now or something else.

But the story's still out there. There are 10,000 American troops there. And this year, they're actually leaning forward more, helping the Afghans. They're going to be closer to the front lines. There are going to be more American airstrikes to try to push back the Taliban.

So if anything, the story's more important because the Americans are getting more involved than they were last year.

GREENE: So you were in the south of the country and targeted by the Taliban, which is where David and Zabi were killed. What does that tell us about the state of the country right now. I mean, what's it like there?

BOWMAN: Well, it's still very dangerous in this area, Helmand Province, where the Marines lost a lot of their comrades over the years. Last year, the Afghans were in complete control of their own security. And consequently, the Taliban pushed in, grabbed a lot of the areas where a lot of Marines died - where the Marines had fought for.

So this year, the Americans sent trainers out there to Helmand Province. They're going to do more airstrikes. And they're completely rebuilding the Afghan 215th Corps, who we spent a lot of time with out there. And that's one of the stories we worked on. So it's more dangerous, really, than it was when we were there three, four, five years ago.

GREENE: More dangerous - I mean, what does that tell us about the future? I mean, what is the best hope for this country I mean, now that it's in a place where, you know, we've had this withdraw of U.S. forces? I mean, there's still a presence there. The country is supposed to be sort of taking on the role of security on its own. I mean, what's the best hope?

BOWMAN: You know, I talk to a lot of people about Afghanistan, people who have spent years there - civilians and military. And the consensus seems to be that the cities will be able to push back the Taliban - that the cities will be safe - relatively safe. They'll - and the highways will be able to be maintained.

But in the countryside, it will largely be a pretty strong insurgency. The Taliban will still hold sway outside the major cities. That's the best case scenario. And that's a long way from what American officials had told the American people they expected and hoped for back in 2002.

GREENE: Tom, I know we'll be hearing your stories on this show and also on All Things Considered. And I am looking forward to them because, I mean, this is what David would have wanted - to get this journalism on the air. And, you know, this has been a tough period for all of us here. And it's - I really feel for what you've been through.

BOWMAN: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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