Tom Bowman

U.S. Marine artillerymen are now in place on Syrian soil, north of the last stronghold of the Islamic State. A force of local Kurdish and Arab fighters is moving south, continuing to isolate the city of Raqqa.

They're in the opening stages of a major military operation that officials say could last into the fall.

What comes next is expected to have huge implications not only for the fate of ISIS but also for the relationship between Turkey and Russia, as well as the geographic outlines of the future Syrian state.

It will be very complicated.

Rick Brennan remembers sitting around Baghdad back in 2011 with some fellow U.S. military planners. Talk turned to the Iraqi army of the future. In one scenario, they pictured the Iraqi army falling apart, splintering along ethnic lines.

"We painted a worst-case scenario, a nightmare scenario, that was exactly what we're seeing take place right now," Brennan says.

Remember last week when President Obama said he planned to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq?

Well, the U.S. couldn't do it until the Iraqi government gave U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution, through what's called a "diplomatic note." If those U.S. soldiers committed any crimes or had any legal troubles while advising Iraqis, the U.S. wanted to handle any prosecutions.

President Obama says that up to 300 U.S. military personnel will be heading to Iraq to advise Iraqi forces, not to serve in combat. But the proposal raises more questions: Will those U.S. forces heading out with Iraqi troops be armed? What are the rules of engagement? And how long will they stay?

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Five U.S. soldiers have been killed recently in Afghanistan, the result of what might have been friendly fire from an American airplane. The deaths, if confirmed, would constitute the worst case of friendly fire in the war so far.

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Even as the Taliban released a video of Army Sgt. Bergdahl's release, questions continue to surround his initial disappearance. Bergdahl has said he was captured by the Taliban while lagging behind on a patrol. In a classified report produced in 2010, the Army paints him as a soldier troubled by U.S. policy, but it does not go so far as to call him a deserter. Still, many wonder whether Bergdahl planned to return before his capture.

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The prisoner exchange that freed Bowe Bergdahl has touched off a huge political controversy. NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now to talk more about it. Hey there, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

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President Obama intends to keep a force of 9,800 American troops after the end of 2014. The troops will remain in the country in order to train Afghan forces and support counterterrorism operations. By the end of 2016, all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan.

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Sometime on Monday, Dave and Cilicia Boelk will visit the grave of their son James, not far from their home in Manassas, Va. It's Memorial Day.

Lance Cpl. James Boelk was a Marine killed in Afghanistan in the fall of 2010. Dave Boelk admits that Memorial Day was never all that special. Like most Americans it just signaled the beginning of summer, a day of picnics and car sales.

"It really didn't mean a whole lot to me either until our son was killed, so I can't slight people for going off and having a good time," Boelk says.

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The Army general who heads the Defense Intelligence Agency is leaving a year early and retiring.

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but sources say he's stepping down because he's fed up with bureaucratic fights in Washington.

Flynn is expected to announce his retirement within the next week.

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The U.S. is providing more arms and training to the moderate rebels in Syria, under a growing secret program run by the CIA in Jordan. Sources tell NPR that secret program could be supplemented by a more public effort in the coming months involving American military trainers.

The change in strategy comes as the White House sees Syrian leader Bashar Assad growing in strength, and continuing to strike rebel strongholds.

For decades the National Guard has fought hard against the stereotype that it was the place to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War, or that it's a place to get college money rather than combat duty.

Guard leaders thought that after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq they had finally earned some respect. So it was a body blow when the Army's top officer, Gen. Ray Odierno, unveiled his plan on Capitol Hill to take all of the National Guard's Apache helicopters and move them to the regular Army.

With the U.S. military out of Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army, which peaked with a force of around 570,000 a few years ago, was supposed to drop to around 490,000 troops.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that's still too big.

"An Army of this size is larger than required to meet the demands of our defense strategy," Hagel told a news conference in February.

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