The Afghanistan Dilemma

by Maggie Walker 

The date Oct. 7, 2001, does not tend to ring many bells in our collective national memory. This unassuming date, however, marked the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. Recently the issue has bubbled to the top of headlines and grabbed national attention as America’s longest war has ended. 

To understand context, the country of Afghanistan itself was at war before American involvement. Dr. Glen Duerr, Associate Professor of International Studies, said, “Afghanistan has been at war for 43 or so years. That’s not to say that it’s been high intensity all the time or in all parts of the country.”

Specifically, then, the United States’ 20-year involvement in the war in Afghanistan was part of the “War on Terrorism” sparked by 9/11. To be clear, none of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Afghan nationals. The country itself did not attack the U.S. Why, then, did the United States invade Afghanistan? Essentially, the Taliban, which was based in Afghanistan, protected al-Qaeda, the terrorist group who claimed responsibility for 9/11. 

Dr. Mark Caleb Smith, Director of the Center for Political Studies, said,” This is the difficulty…if you take the Bush doctrine (referring to the War on Terrorism]) at face value, it was not only to defeat terrorists but to also impact the countries that give safe harbor to terrorists. The argument was, ‘yes, we have to defeat terrorists,’ obviously, but we also have to deal with the governments that sponsor them and that allow them to live there and train there. We focused on Afghanistan right out of the chute because of its connection to al-Qaeda.” 

Smith said, “There are lots of other countries that sponsor terrorism that we didn’t take that approach with because it’s much more difficult militarily and politically.” 

According to Smith, the issues at hand are complex. One would be hard-pressed to find an effective blanket policy for heterogeneous countries. 

The War in Afghanistan dragged on years longer than anticipated and was handled by four different presidencies. Within the roughly 20 years the war stretched over, according to AP News, 2,448 American service members, 66,000 Afghan national military and police, and 47,245 Afghan civilians were killed.

Pulling out of the war stretched across partisan lines in the States, evidenced by former President Trump’s declarations to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and end the ‘forever wars’, and President Biden’s recent actions. 

Duerr said, “Typically when an issue comes across a president’s desk, it’s a choice between a bad option and a worse option.” 

A few weeks ago, on Aug. 15, the Afghan government collapsed, and the Taliban seized control of Kabul (Afghanistan’s capital). While the Taliban has stated it will institute an “open, inclusive Islamic government,” most of the world remains skeptical. 

Duerr said, “(The Taliban is an) occupier of Afghanistan; they’re not a legitimate government, and most governments around the world will not recognize them.”

Regardless of international recognition, the events occurring in Afghanistan now are affecting real flesh-and-blood human beings. This has prompted two big questions. What happens to the Afghan people now and what should we do about it?

“You have an obligation to those people who built a culture around our presence,” Smith said. “(For example) Young women, who were being educated, and who were experiencing life in a certain way, since America was there. All that’s gone. We built up responsibility for that because of our presence.” 

Beyond moral obligations to the people of Afghanistan, something of particular interest to Christians is the plight of the estimated 10-12 thousand fellow believers in Afghanistan. 

Duerr said, “Christian minorities, (along with])many ethnic, religious minorities are very much in danger right now in Afghanistan.”

Smith said “People view the war in Afghanistan as very disconnected from us. But you have to understand that what’s happened in the middle east has probably kept America safe from large-scale terrorist attacks for the last 20 years.”  

Dr. Bennett, Assistant Professor of Missions and Theology, who served in North Africa and the Middle East for six years, said, “The biggest misconception is that we see Afghanis as our enemies when we’re going to be seeing them as our neighbors in more direct ways in the coming days.”  


Maggie Walker is a sophomore Political Science major. She loves both spontaneous and planned adventures with friends, art, dinosaurs, green tea, and indulging in the occasional rant, political or otherwise.

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