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Teaching with the News Archives

This lesson was published in November 2009.

U.S. Policy in Afghanistan

Discussion of U.S. policy in Afghanistan has been filling the news in recent weeks. During his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama argued that the war in Afghanistan should be the highest military priority of the United States. U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who is in charge of operations in Afghanistan, has proposed that the United States increase its forces in Afghanistan. President Obama and his advisors are reassessing U.S. policies in Afghanistan, a task complicated by political unrest following a flawed presidential election. The choices are hotly debated in the United States and international opinion is divided, especially in the thirty-four countries with soldiers in Afghanistan.


In this lesson, students will consider three options for U.S. policy in Afghanistan and then articulate their own views on the issue.


U.S. Policy in Afghanistan: Introduction and Policy Options

Afghanistan KWL (Chart)

Guidelines for Deliberation

Video Resources:

Obama's move on Afghan war could impact region - 15.Oct.09 from Al Jazeera (above)

Scholars Online Videos from Michael Bhatia:

Who are the Taliban? [Michael Bhatia - 1:27]

Why are U.S. forces in Afghanistan? [Michael Bhatia - 1:04]


DAY I—Exploring Contrasting Policy Options

Introducing the Issue
Use Afghanistan - KWL to chart what students know, want to know, and have learned.

Know: Have the class brainstorm what they already know about the situation in Afghanistan. As ideas are being generated, students should fill in the left-hand column of their chart.

Want to Learn: Next, have students develop a list of 5 or 6 things they would like to learn to better understand the U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

Learned: Have students view the video resources that accompany this lesson. With each video, have students write down at least two things they learned about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Summarize: With their KWL charts completed, challenge students to succinctly summarize the situation in Afghanistan in 40-50 words.

Preparing and Presenting the Options
Divide the class into four groups. Assign three of the groups a policy option (one for each group) from U.S. Policy in Afghanistan. Assign the remaining group the role of President Obama and his advisors.

Option Presenters will review their assigned option and with their group members answer the questions at the end of the option. They should then develop a short presentation to give to the class. The presentation should make the best possible case for their option.

President and Advisors will review each of the options presented in the material and prepare clarifying questions to ask each option group after the presentations. The intent of having students ask these questions is to make sure that the options, as they are written, are fully understood prior to deliberation on their merits, risks, and tradeoffs.

Foreign Representatives (optional): If your class is large, you may want to assign some students the role of representatives of other nations. They can be asked to present their views on the options after the presentations


DAY II—Shared Deliberation and Individual Judgment

Deliberating on the Options
Begin your deliberation by asking students to identify the things they like and the things that concern them about each of the options presented. Encourage students to listen carefully to each other rather than to try to "win" the argument. The outcome should involve a more sophisticated understanding on the part of all participating. (You may find Guidelines for Deliberation andDeliberating "Pros" and "Cons" of Policy Options useful.)

Articulating Their Own Views
After students have deliberated together on the merits and tradeoffs of the options presented in this lesson, give all of the students an opportunity to come to terms with their own views on this issue.

Option 4
What should we do? Have them articulate their own views on the issue by framing their "Option 4" using the questions provided as a template.


Recommended Online News Coverage

BBC Timeline: Afghanistan
Timeline from 1919 to present

Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. War in Afghanistan
An interactive timeline (from 1999 to present)

Al Jazeera: Afghanistan Elections 2009

PBS Online NewsHour: Afghanistan and the War on Terror

You may also be interested in:

The United States in Afghanistan: Analyzing Political Cartoons
In this Teaching with the News Lesson, students will explore viewpoints on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan by interpreting political cartoons.

Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy.
In this curriculum unit Students are drawn into consideration of the changing nature of terrorism, the motivations of terrorists, and the policy challenges for the United States.

Let Your Voice Be Heard
Encourage students to express their views and continue the dialog.

Write letters to elected officials
Contact information for the White House can be found at and their U.S. Senators and Representatives at

Express their views in local papers
Students could write letters to the editor or articles for the school or community newspaper.

Engage others in this topic
Students could engage other classes in this topic, hold a forum in the school, or sponsor a discussion with community members in a public setting. [Students who pursue such projects are encouraged to contact the Choices Program at Put "student projects" in the subject line.]