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May 18, 2011

After Bin Laden, Stay in Afghanistan?

In the immediate aftermath of Osama Bin Laden's assassination, religious leaders debated whether the the military action was just and what the right response to such an event should be. For political activists, another question emerged: What does Bin Laden's death mean for U.S. foreign policy?  Most agreed that it is "a turning point," but there is less agreement over where exactly the U.S. should turn toward at this point.


For Sojourners president Jim Wallis, the death of Osama Bin Laden should signal the end of the war in Afghanistan, a war he said “no longer has any justification.”

“The completion of the largest and most expensive manhunt in history for Osama bin Laden must be a turning point to completely rethink our response to terrorism,” Wallis said. “The threats of terrorists are still real, but it is now clear that full-scale military action is not the most effective response.”

David P. Gushee of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good echoed Wallis' view. Gushee said there is now the “opportunity … for the United States to reconsider the questionable moves we have made in the name of the war on terror. From our perspective, this includes … the expansion rather than ending of the ten-year-old war in Afghanistan.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Bin Laden's assassination was indeed a “turning point,” but one in the war on terrorism that he said included both Afghanistan and Iraq. He compared it to the battle of the Midway in World War II that began to put the Japanese on the defensive.

"We defeated [al-Qaeda] in Iraq. And we're doing the same thing in Afghanistan now. This is not the end of al-Qaeda, not the end of the Taliban," Land said.

Breakpoint's Chuck Colson also saw this as “a major turning point in the war against terrorism.”  But he said, “the real turning point could be in how we conduct this war hereafter.”

Colson reiterated his belief that the troop levels in Afghanistan is no longer a “just war” because the goal is now about nation-building. He said reduced troop levels would save both dollars and lives.

“The success of the operation against bin Laden proves that targeted, behind-the-scenes operations based on solid intelligence give us the best chance to eliminate the terrorists. It’s like using a rifle instead of a shotgun,” Colson said.

Heidi Unruh of Evangelicals for Social Action said that despite Bin Laden's death, the war in Afghanistan remains complex. The assassination raises the question of whether the U.S. should walk away from the region or increase its efforts.

"Our first question as Christians remains: How do we make use of our national resources—including the precious lives of our soldiers—in a way that more closely reflects the values and aims of the kingdom of God?" Unruh said. "I believe this means, in part, preparing for the 100,000 troops in Afghanistan to come home, without wavering in our commitment and responsibility to help empower the Afghan people to rebuild their economy, civil society, and a more just government."

For more commentary on U.S. action in Afghanistan see The Village Green from the September 2010 issue of Christianity Today:

Stay in Afghanistan? Let Jesus Call the Shots by Will Willimon

Stay in Afghanistan? It's the New Normal by Chris Seiple

Stay in Afghanistan? There's No Other Choice  by Jean Bethke Elshtain


There is no question that the Bush/Rumsfeld strategy prolonged the war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Then when Obama took office, he dithered for a year on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, and then did not send what the military requested. Those who say that by killing bin Laden, the U.S. fulfilled its mission forget that getting bin Laden wasn't the only goal. The purpose of invasion was to topple the Taliban and to create a government capable of defending itself against the Taliban and al Queda so that a radical Islamic government that would threaten its neighbors and American citizens would not return to power. That goal has not been realized. Some say that military power will not change the conditions that brought the Taliban to power, but schools and the creation of a viable Afghan domestic economy will. That is true in the long run. But these conditions will never occur without outside the military protection needed to nurture these conditions. Otherwise, militant Islam will prevent by force anyone trying to better themselves and others.

Did we learn nothing from Viet Nam? The south Vietnamese would not even fight for their own country's survival - and so we stayed there long enough to lose 58,000 boys. Fortunately, Nixon declared victory and brought our boys home. If there is only one thing BHO could do that I would agree with it is to bring our boys and girls home from Afganistan and Iraq. Now!