There is no more room or time for excuses. The war in Afghanistan -- now the longest war in American history -- no longer has any justification, and I am calling upon Christians, along with other people of good, moral sense, to lead the effort to finally end this war and bring our troops home. On moral, financial, and strategic grounds, the continuation of the war in Afghanistan cannot be justified. 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. The threats of terrorists are still real, but it is now clear that full-scale military action is not the most effective response.
It was the campaign against bin Laden and al Qaeda that was always used to justify the war in Afghanistan. General David Petraeus has said there are about 100 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. We have more than 100,000 American troops and another 40,000 coalition soldiers in Afghanistan. That means 1,400 soldiers for each al Qaeda fighter. It costs about $1 million a year to deploy and support each American soldier - or more than $100 billion a year total. That breaks down to our country spending $1 billion per year, per al Qaeda fighter. Every deficit hawk in America should now oppose this war. The cost is simply too high, especially when compared with all the painful budget choices this failed war is causing us to make.
Even more important is the human cost of 1,570 Americans killed, more than 10,000 wounded, and many more families separated -- lives disrupted and changed forever. And Christians must always care about the casualties on the other side, especially innocent lives who are the collateral damage of war. From 2007 to 2010 that number is at least 10,000. This war is not worth that human cost. The damages it causes far outweigh the possible results, and that makes this war unjustifiable. As Chuck Colson recently said, "Maintaining 100,000 troops in Afghanistan no longer meets the just war criteria."
Continuing the war will lead to greater human and financial costs without a clear understanding of what success could even look like. What began as an understandable action to pursue those who launched the attack on September 11, has now become a war of occupation in Afghanistan; a massive counter-insurgency; the defense of an utterly corrupt and incompetent government; and an impossible effort at military-led nation-building. Long term and sustained strategies of development and democracy building will not be accomplished by an endless, massive military occupation and counter-insurgency; in fact, our current strategy will prevent long-term nation-building.
As more and more people have pointed out, the operation that found and killed bin Laden was not the massive war of counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. It was the result of smart intelligence, good detective work, and aggressive law-enforcement work -- policing, rather than war-making. Even many conservatives have pointed this out, as George Will recently wrote, "bin Laden was brought down by intelligence gathering that more resembles excellent police work than a military operation."
I met with veterans three weeks ago and heard them say one word over and over again as their moral judgment on what they saw and experienced in Afghanistan -- "cost." The cost of this war, in any terms, is just too high, and the war must end. This is a nonpartisan issue. I was honored to stand at that same press conference with two of the most consistent and courageous congressional voices, against this war, Democrat Jim McGovern and Republican Walter Jones. What convinced Jones was his regular visits to the wounded veterans of his home district. He saw and felt their pain, he saw the results of the war, and concluded it was not worth the cost.
The time has come to end the war in Afghanistan. Many have shown how it is possible to end it responsibly. (See Sojourners magazine's March issue.) The war must end now, and I believe the faith community must lead the way.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.