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Military chaplains: Being a cog of conscience in the military killing machine

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The colonel – or M-12, as Fisher nicknamed him when his tongue first tripped over the military mullah's name – nods, smiles. At one point he thanks Fisher for draft guidelines he sent over, but then he tilts his head back and pokes jokingly but pointedly: "The Americans are here and then they escape from us." A smile flashes across his face. "I don't know why."

Fisher laughs, but his eyes are serious as he explains why he "escapes" his Afghan counterparts: "Here at Pol-i-charkhi you have five to 10 RCA officers, and in the general area there are one or two American chaplains."

The shortage of US chaplains and the proliferation of US bases around Afghanistan means American chaplains can't embed with Afghan units the way engineers and combat specialists do.

"Our first priority is to the American troops," he explains. Though he doesn't spell it out, the implication is clear: Just by joining Moheburahman for lunch, Fisher is stepping outside the traditional role of ministering to troops and advising command. Yet in so doing, he is also affirming the value of the chaplaincy.

•••

US commanders have in past conflicts used chaplains to promote cooperation between local religious factions, and the US military chaplaincy has mentored and assisted chaplains of other nations throughout its history. But this is the first time US chaplains have helped establish a chaplaincy in an Islamic republic as part of a wider, nation-building effort. The result will be a chaplaincy radically different from their own. [Editor's note: The original version stated that this was the first time US military chaplains have been used to mentor foreign military clergy. In fact, the US military chaplaincy has mentored and assisted chaplains of other nations throughout its history. This is, however, the first effort by US military chaplains to establish a chaplaincy in an Islamic republic as part of a wider, nation-building effort.]

The Afghan Army, after all, serves the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, while American chaplains serve a secular command.

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