Afghan turmoil: War and peace … and faith

President Barack Obama’s decisions to replace the leaders of allied forces in Afghanistan has led to renewed questions on the U.S. strategy there — and on whether the war is morally and militarily justified. The resurgent debate has been led by pundits, military analysts and politicians.


The high rate of turnover in the high ranks of military personnel in Afghanistan can be read as one sign of the turmoil abroad — four different commanders have led the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan since 2009. Gen. Stanley McChrystal took command on June 10, 2009, and quickly reported that at least 30,000 more troops would be necessary to “defeat the Taliban.” McChrystal resigned after his critical remarks about the Obama administration were made public in a Rolling Stone article.

McChrystal was then replaced by Gen. David Petraeus on June 30, 2010. During his time as commander, a NATO airstrike killed nine civilians in Afghanistan and was internationally criticized. Petraeus responded to the mistake by pledging an investigation and apologizing to the Afghan people. Petraeus served until July 18, 2011, when he retired from the Army to become the director of the CIA. Marine corps Gen. John Allen took up the post after Petraeus’ resignation.

Allen held the office until Feb. 10, 2013, when he relinquished the post after inquiries into “inappropriate communications” with another woman and his wife fell seriously ill. Gen. Joseph Dunford then took command of the forces.

U.S. and NATO troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001, but in May 2012 NATO and U.S. President Barack Obama announced a plan that would withdraw all forces by the end of 2014. The newly trained Afghan forces will take command of the region in 2013 while the foreign forces begin to pull out. In 2014 a new and separate NATO mission aimed at training and advising the Afghan forces would begin.

One high-profile example of the volatility of the issue was the reaction to remarks by Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, who was taped denouncing the campaign in Afghanistan — launched by former President George W. Bush — as “a war of Obama’s choosing” and one that Steele suggested was unwinnable.

Several leaders in Steele’s own party denounced his statements and insisted that the United States, which led the invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, would pursue the war to a successful conclusion.

But questions about the war are also being framed by religious thinkers and advocates who cite traditional “just war” theory in their varying views.

News articles and research

  • “Media Guide–Afghanistan”

    See a Council on Foreign Relations’ media guide to the conflict in Afghanistan, featuring a list of experts and other resources.

  • “Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance”

    Read “Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance,” a June 27, 2010, op-ed in The Washington Post by Andrew J. Bacevich. Bacevich is a Vietnam veteran, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, and a Catholic who often writes on issues of war and peace from a faith perspective. He is the author of the 2010 book Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.

  • “The Runaway General”

    Read the June 22, 2010, profile published by Rolling Stone about Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. After the article was published, McChrystal was removed from his post for the unflattering comments he made about the Obama administration.

  • “McChrystal is out; Petraeus is in”

    Read a June 24, 2010, story published in the Los Angeles Times about the change of leadership in Afghanistan from Gen. Stanly McChrystal to Gen. David Patraeus.

  • “Nine Afghan boys collecting firewood killed by NATO helicopters”

    Read a March 2, 2011, story published in the New York Times about the NATO airstrike that killed 9 Afghan civilians while Gen. David Patraeus was in command.

  • “Petraeus hands over command in Afghanistan”

    Read a July 18, 2011, story published on that covers Gen. Petraeus’ resignation from the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen took command after Petraeus.

  • “Afghan Isaf commander John Allen sees ‘road to winning'”

    Read a Feb. 10, 2013, story published on that takes a look at Afghanistan through the eyes of Gen. John Allen just after he resigned from his post as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

  • “U.S. General Dunford: ‘Fight for Afghan rights not over'”

    Read a June 12, 2013, story published on that covers Gen. Joseph Dunford request for continued support from international forces to support human rights and the democratic process in Afghanistan.

  • “‘Whatever is necessary’: Obama defends war, again”

    Read “‘Whatever is necessary’: Obama defends war, again,” a post at Vox Nova from June 24, 2010, a liberal-leaning blog on things Catholic that in this essay criticizes Obama’s commitment to the Afghan war effort.

  • “NATO accepts Obama timetable to end war in Afghanistan by 2014”

    Read a May 22, 2012, story published on about President Barack Obama’s plans to withdraw U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan.

National organizations

  • Middle East Policy Council

    The Middle East Policy Council is a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. It works to educate Americans on the political, economic, and cultural issues in the Middle East relevant to the United States.

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