US Bishops Offer Guidelines on Afghan Policy

Urge Review of Military Force, Long-Term Goals

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WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 13, 2009 ( The U.S. bishops’ conference is urging the country’s leaders that if the use of military force is necessary in Afghanistan, that it be «proportionate and discriminate.»

Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York, and the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, made this appeal in an Oct. 6 letter to General James Jones, the U.S. National Security Advisor.

He wrote the letter to offer guidelines and suggestions while the country’s administration reviews its strategy in Afghanistan.

«While we are pastors and teachers and not military experts,» the prelate stated on behalf of the entire conference, «we can share Catholic teaching and experience which may help inform various policy choices.»

He noted: «We recognize that the situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan is at a critical juncture. Should these states fail, particularly with Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, there are grave implications for regional and international security.»

The bishop acknowledged that «in the face of terrorist threats, we know that our nation must respond to indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians in ways that combine a resolve to do what is necessary, the restraint to ensure that we act justly, and the vision to focus on broader issues of poverty and injustice that are unscrupulously exploited by terrorists in gaining recruits.»

He referred to a statement released by the conference shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and underlined some of the principles outlined therein.


On behalf of the other prelates, Bishop Hubbard urged the administration to «review the use of military force — when force is necessary to protect the innocent and resist terrorism — to insure that it is proportionate and discriminate.»

He suggested the development of specific criteria for «when it is appropriate to end military action in Afghanistan.»

As well, the prelate wrote, the conference exhorts the administration to consider focusing more on «diplomacy, long-term development — particularly agricultural programs — and humanitarian assistance.»

He added that it would be important to «strengthen local governance and participation of local groups in planning their own development» and to «encourage international support to create effective national and local governments.»

«Military involvement in development should be phased out as local situations stabilize and civilian agencies resume activity,» the bishop affirmed.

He noted that his suggestions also arise from consulting with the experience of Catholic Relief Services, an organization that has been working in Afghanistan for over a decade on local projects encompassing agriculture, water, income generation, education and health.

Their «ability to develop local partnerships, involving people in examining their needs and determining priorities, has meant that those communities have a greater commitment to their own development,» Bishop Hubbard affirmed.

As well, he added, the people are more committed to protecting the organization’s programs and staff.

The prelate concluded, «We bishops acknowledge that our nation has moral responsibilities to combat terrorism and to help rebuild Afghanistan.»

He acknowledged that «there are no easy answers on how best to accomplish these objectives,» but expressed the hope that these reflections will help the authorities plan a strategy for future work in Afghanistan.

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