Was the Afghan War just?

The NATO military campaign in Afghanistan ended in August. Ashley Beck asks: ‘Was the campaign in line with traditional Catholic teaching?’

War in Fratelli tutti
‘Every war leaves our world worse than it was before. War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil.’ (Fratelli tutti 261)

These words of Pope Francis are clear about the moral status of war for Catholics. As Theodora Hawksley showed in her article about the encyclical in this journal earlier this year, the Pope, in line with previous statements and the teachings of his predecessors, has come near to closing the door on any Christian acceptance of war as morally acceptable.1 Francis’ arguments are basically that war can’t be justified, war has changed, and it simply doesn’t work.2 At the height of the NATO campaign in the late ‘noughties’, some of us asked how far the campaign by then fulfilled Just War criteria, with little success.3 It is no dishonour to the memory of those killed in Afghanistan to revisit this now: if they died in an unjust and unjustifiable war, then we should not be afraid to say so, if only to avoid such a conflict happening again.

Some of those who were involved in the War have understandably sought in recent months to justify what was done and to criticise the hasty US withdrawal at the end of August this year,4 claiming that the NATO action was morally justified and the withdrawal in the summer of 2021 was a betrayal of the mission. Does this moral outrage accord with Catholic teaching?

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