Lore of the Corps
The Corps in Afghanistan
The Alpha (2001) and Omega (2021) of Legal Operations
By Fred L. Borch III
Editor’s note: This issue of The Army Lawyer contains first-hand accounts of members of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps who served in Afghanistan over the last twenty years; this Lore of the Corps complements those accounts by providing the “bookends” of the Corps’s time in Afghanistan, i.e., who was the first in country and who was last out.
With the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from Kabul in August 2021, now is the time to examine the role played by judge advocates, legal administrators, and paralegals in the war in Afghanistan that began twenty years ago. Between 24 November 2001, when the first Army lawyer arrived in Bagram, to 30 August 2021, when the last judge advocate and paralegal specialist left Kabul, more than 500 members of the Corps served in Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and FREEDOM’S SENTINEL. Members of the Corps also participated in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its successor, Operation RESOLUTE SUPPORT. While it will take a monograph to adequately discuss the contribution made by the Corps to the conflict in Afghanistan, this article focuses on who was the first to deploy in late 2001 and early 2002, and who were the last members of the Corps to serve in Afghanistan in August 2021.
After the al-Qaeda-sponsored suicide terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, President George W. Bush decided that U.S. military forces would be sent to Afghanistan, since al-Qaeda was based primarily in that country. Afghanistan, however, is “an immense, land-locked country approximately the size of Texas,”1 and the rough terrain and minimal road and rail facilities meant that the first U.S. troops to deploy as part of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM set up operations in Uzbekistan, a country situated about 200 miles northwest of Kabul. The Americans were physically located at an old Soviet airbase near Karshi Kandabad in south-central Uzbekistan.2
One of the first units deployed to Uzbekistan was the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Ultimately, these Army Special Forces personnel formed the nucleus of Joint Special Operations Task Force NORTH, called Task Force DAGGER, along with the headquarters element of the U.S. Air Force’s 16th Special Operations Wing. Aviators from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) from Fort Campbell and Air Force special operations personnel (combat tactical air controllers) and AC130s from Hurlburt Field, Florida, were also part of Task Force DAGGER.3
To support these special operations forces and provide a quick reaction force of heavily armed infantryman, the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division (Light), also deployed to Karshi Kandabad—in October 2001.4
The first “conventional” troops did not enter Afghanistan until late November 2001, when a company-sized quick reaction force from the 87th Infantry was sent to provide security at Quala-i-Jangi fortress in Mazar-e Sharif.5 Eventually, elements of the 87th would be stationed at Bagram Air Base, where they provided base security and were a quick reaction force.
The Alpha: First In
So what about judge advocates in the early days of ENDURING FREEDOM? The first Army judge advocate in Afghanistan was Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) G. John Taylor, who arrived at Bagram Air Base just before midnight on Saturday, 24 November 2001.6 Taylor, who previously had served with the 82d Airborne Division and in various special forces units, including Delta Force from 1998 to 2001, was well-suited to be the first Army lawyer in Afghanistan. Taylor provided legal advice to Brigadier General Gary Harrell, who served as the commander of Task Force BOWIE and the Director, U.S. Central Command Joint Interagency Task Force.7
As LTC Taylor remembers, he arrived at Bagram on an Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130 aircraft “doing a typical combat corkscrew descent from high altitude”—the corkscrew being required because the pilots were worried about the potential anti-aircraft missile threat.8 “We landed with a thump, screeched to a stop, they [the Air Force crew] literally shoved our pallet off the back of the aircraft and pushed us all out into the darkness.”9 The MC-130 immediately taxied away and took off. “We all looked at each other. It was cold, pitch black dark, and we were alone.”10
Over the next few months, Taylor provided counsel on a variety of intelligence law, Rules of Engagement, administrative and criminal law, and fiscal law issues. Much of his advice, however, related to the legal status of detainees in the custody of Task Force BOWIE, particularly after Brigadier General Harrell put Taylor in charge of establishing and running the High Value Detention Center at Bagram. Harrell wanted to be absolutely sure that the requirements of U.S. and international law were scrupulously observed at the detention center, and believed that the best way to ensure that this occurred was to put a judge advocate in charge. Lieutenant Colonel Taylor personally took charge of the first two detainees, one of whom was Salim Hamdan. Hamdan, who had been Osama bin Laden’s driver and bodyguard, ultimately was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he faced trial by a military commission.11
In addition to providing legal advice and running the Task Force BOWIE detention center, LTC Taylor supported the mission in other ways. He took part in various operational security missions as well as classified covert intelligence operations, served as a Class A ordering officer, Headquarters Commandant, and worked as a public affairs officer on occasion. He also served as U.S. Central Command’s liaison to the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Kabul.12 Lieutenant Colonel Taylor left Afghanistan in May 2002.
The second Army JA to set foot in Afghanistan was Captain (CPT) Chris Soucie, a 10th Mountain Division asset. He deployed to Sheberghan for the first time on Christmas night for a three-week mission. After returning to Karshi Khanabad, Soucie remained in Uzbekistan until relocating to Bagram on 17 February 2002.13
The third Army JA in Afghanistan appears to have been LTC Kathryn Stone, staff judge advocate (SJA), 10th Mountain Division. She deployed to Uzbekistan on 1 or 2 December 2001. While LTC Stone spent most of her time at Karshi Kandabad, she did fly to Bagram on a mission on 31 December for two days. After returning to Uzbekistan, Stone flew again to Bagram on 2 January 2002 for two days, before returning to Karshi Kandabad. Her final trip to Bagram was on 18 February 2002; she remained there until re-deploying to Fort Drum.14
Other early JA arrivals in Afghanistan include then-CPT Harper Cook, who arrived in Kandahar on 4 January 2002,15 and then-CPT Nicholas “Nick” Lancaster joined Cook in Kandahar about 23 or 24 January.16 Then-CPT Dean Whitford—who had arrived in Uzbekistan on 9 October 2001 as the SJA for Task Force DAGGER— went to Mazar-e Sharif and Quala-i-Jangi fortress from 11 through 18 January 2002 for a short mission; Whitford later returned to Afghanistan on 26 February to provide legal advice as part of Operation ANACONDA (2 to 19 March 2002).17
Over the next two decades, hundreds of judge advocates, legal administrators, and paralegal specialists—Active component, Reserve, and Army National Guard—provided legal services to commanders and their staffs. While an examination of who did what, where they did it, and how they did it, requires book-length treatment, it is fair to say that after the fighting capabilities of al-Qaeda and the Taliban were significantly degraded, the United States and its allies transitioned to a new mission: building a free, independent, and democratic Afghanistan.
In November 2005, the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed that “stability operations” were a “core U.S. military mission” that should “be given priority comparable to combat operations.”18 Consequently, while members of the Corps continued to provide traditional legal advice and counsel to commanders and their staffs, they also began using their legal skills and talents to help strengthen Afghan state institutions. Central to these post-conflict legal efforts was the implementation of a “Rule of Law” program that sought to counter widespread corruption, fight the opium trade, and reduce the pernicious influence of warlords. Ultimately, the goal was to create an independent court system where ethical prosecutors, defense counsel, and judges followed the law and strengthened the ties between Afghan citizens and the Afghan government.19
The Omega: Last Out
On 29 February 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s representatives signed an agreement with the Taliban that required the departure of all U.S. and allied troops from Afghanistan. In this Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan (also known as the Doha Agreement), the United States pledged to withdraw all military forces by 1 May 2021.20
After being elected in 2020, President Joseph Biden inherited the agreement, which he agreed to honor. In April 2021, Biden announced the withdrawal of the roughly 2,500 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan, but stipulated that all troops would depart by 11 September 2021—twenty years to the day that al-Qaeda had attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon. President Biden subsequently moved the date for all troops to leave Afghanistan to the end of August 2021. In remarks made at the White House in July 2021, the President emphasized that the United States needed to move swiftly to conduct the main elements of the drawdown.21 The President almost certainly reasoned that if he did not withdraw military personnel as promised by President Trump, the United States would need to escalate combat operations against the Taliban—which President Biden did not want to do. But, in ordering the withdrawal, President Biden insisted that the United States would “continue to provide civilian and humanitarian assistance” to the Afghan government headed by President Ashraf Ghani.22
At the time of President Biden’s July announcement, U.S. military personnel on the ground were in the newly-formed U.S. Forces Afghanistan-Forward (USFOR-A FWD). This was a new organization; it was not a successor to USFOR-A/RESOLUTE SUPPORT. Rather, USFOR-A FWD was directly under the operational control of U.S. Central Command. The new unit was, however, using the old USFOR-A/RESOLUTE SUPPORT compound, which was under the control of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.23
As the withdrawal got underway in mid-2021, Taliban victories accelerated rapidly. Lieutenant Colonel Dustin P. Murphy, who had arrived in Kabul in mid-June to serve as the SJA, USFOR-A FWD, realized that that the Taliban’s rapid progress on the battlefield would soon threaten Kabul. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, however, did not fully share this perspective. The embassy did not believe that a Taliban victory was imminent, or that it would be wise to accelerate the evacuation of embassy personnel and other U.S. citizens in country.24
On 15 August 2021, the Taliban entered Kabul. Afghan Security Forces either fled or surrendered. President Ghani fled the country and the Afghan government collapsed. It seemed likely that the Taliban would storm the U.S. embassy grounds—where LTC Murphy and other U.S. personnel were living and working as part of USFOR-A FWD. Concerned that any attack would result in U.S. military and civilian personnel being killed and wounded, Murphy requested that Vice Admiral Peter Vasely, the senior U.S. commander on the ground in Afghanistan, request modifications to the existing Rules of Engagement to allow U.S. forces to assume a better defensive posture at the embassy compound in Kabul. Although U.S. Central Command granted Admiral Vasely’s request, the Taliban did not attack. This meant that a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) began without incident on 16 August 2021.25
In the airlift that followed from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, C-17 jets began ferrying both U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals with special visas to safety out of the country. Many of the latter were journalists, activists, judges, translators, and others who had worked for or with the Americans, and consequently were vulnerable to reprisals from the Taliban. More than 100,000 men, women, and children ultimately would leave the chaos of Kabul . 26
At the Hamid Karzi International Airport, LTC Murphy provided national security legal advice, including counsel on issues involving the NEO and escalation of force. He also provided advice on issues including intelligence matters, State Department coordination, and on-going talks with the Taliban.27
On 16 and 17 August, Afghanistan civilians broke through gates and fences surrounding the airport. They flooded into the area and blocked the ingress and egress of C-17s evacuating personnel. Lieutenant Colonel Murphy advised on the degree of force necessary to move civilians off the airfield and back behind the gates. He also personally went to several airport gates to gain a clearer picture of the situation so as to better advise his commander on crowd control. Murphy was at Abbey Gate just days before the suicide attack at that location.28
Meanwhile, elements from the 82d Airborne Division arrived in Kabul to provide additional support and security. Paratroopers from the 1st Brigade deployed from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as part of the no-notice immediate response force (IRF) less than eighteen hours after being notified that they were going to Afghanistan.29
Major Rachel L. Walkup, brigade judge advocate, 1st Brigade, arrived on 15 August, along with Sergeant (SGT) Sawyer Roberts, a paralegal specialist from 1st Brigade. Colonel Jeffrey S. Thurnher, SJA, 82d Airborne Division, arrived on 19 August, along with other 1st Brigade personnel, including CPT Hayley J. Boyd and SGT Johnny Luna. Colonel Thurnher deployed to support Major General Christopher T. Donahue, the division commander, who had deployed to Kabul as the commander of Joint Task Force (JTF)-82.30
Colonel Thurnher and MAJ Walkup provided uniform legal advice to commanders and staff at JTF-82 and the 1st Brigade, respectively. They provided advice on ROE and escalation of force measures implemented in the chaotic and rapidly-changing security situation. Central to their efforts were numerous use-of-force briefings that COL Thurnher and MAJ Walkup personally delivered to units arriving at the airport in Kabul. They also coordinated on security and legal issues with U.S. State Department personnel at the embassy and with the U.S. Marine Corps legal teams vetting Afghan evacuees.31
But these last members of the Corps in theater did more than legal work. Major Walkup and CPT Boyd also performed security functions on many occasions, thereby ensuring that the airport remained open to air traffic and that those being evacuated could move safely through Hamid Karzai International Airport. They also took part in the physical search of U.S. citizens and Afghans being evacuated (for unauthorized weapons and contraband). Sergeant Johnny Luna also supported the airfield operations team by preparing and manifesting re-deploying Soldiers on flights leaving Afghanistan.32
Colonel Thurnher was the last judge advocate to leave Afghanistan when he departed by air from Hamid Karzai International Airport at 1400 on 30 August. Major Walkup had already re-deployed—about 1100 on 30 August—a few hours before COL Thurnher. Sergeant Luna, the last paralegal specialist in country, had departed the day before; CPT Boyd had re-deployed on 28 August.33
A final note: COL Joseph Mackey, SJA, XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, who was the last Army lawyer to serve as the Senior Legal Advisor, RESOLUTE SUPPORT, and SJA, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, had left Afghanistan in mid-June. The last legal administrator in Afghanistan was Chief Warrant Officer Two Misty D. Lakota, who had arrived in country in May 2020 and retrograded in January 2021.34 And LTC Dustin P. J. Murphy? Who had arrived in June and witnessed both the start and the finish of the chaos in Kabul? Murphy flew out on a C-17 on 29 August. As Murphy remembers: “Those three months in Afghanistan felt like a year. Day-to-day it was something new, something complex, and something chaotic.”35 TAL
Mr. Borch is the Regimental Historian, Archivist, and Professor of Legal History and Leadership at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia.
1. Richard W. Stewart, The U.S. Army in Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Freedom 7 (2004).
2. Id. at 8.
3. Id. at 10.
4. Id. The 10th Mountain Division headquarters—and additional division personnel along with Major General Franklin L. “Buster” Hagenbeck—did not arrive in Karshi Kandabad until 12 December 2001).Id. at 20.
5. Id. at 18.
6. A February 2018 article in The Army Lawyer by the author erroneously identified another judge advocate as the first Army lawyer in Afghanistan. This is incorrect; LTC Taylor was in Bagram more than a month before a second judge advocate set foot in Afghanistan. The author regrets this misstatement of fact.
7. Letter from G. John Taylor to Brigadier General Robert P. Huston (Nov. 20, 2018) (on file with author).
8. Email from G. John Taylor to author, subject: Your arrival in Afghanistan on 24 November 2001 (Oct. 26, 2021, 3:16 PM) (on file with author). A corkscrew landing occurs when the pilot “banks sharply and descends toward the runway in a slow, tight circle, like someone walking down a spiral staircase. During the spiral the crew keeps an eye out for other air traffic, and for anything coming at them from the ground. After several turns, the pilot pulls out of the rotation with careful timing, straightens out, and lands.” Allan T. Duffin, Landing in Baghdad, Air & Space Mag, Nov. 2006.
11. Id. See also Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006).
12. Email from G. John Taylor to author, subject: Read this for Accuracy and Completeness (Nov. 18, 2021, 2:34 PM) (on file with author).
13. Email from Kathryn Stone to author, subject: JAGC History (Aug. 13, 2014, 12:17 PM) (on file with author).
14. Email from Kathryn Stone to author, subject: When did you get to Afghanistan (Feb. 16, 2018, 10:29 AM) (on file with author).
15. Source cited supra note 13.
17. For more on ANACONDA, see Stewart, supra note 1, at 30–45.
18. U.S. Dep’t of Defense, Dir. 3000.05, Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Operations (28 Nov. 2005).
19. Vasilios Tasikas, Developing the Rule of Law in Afghanistan: The Need for a New Strategic Paradigm, Army Law., July 2007, at 45.
20. Steve Coll, Defeat, New Yorker, Sept. 13, 2021, at 13.
21. Remarks by President Biden on the Drawdown of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan (July 8, 2021), www. whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/07/08/remarks-by-president-biden-onthe-drawdown-of-u-s-forces-in-afghanistan/.
23. Email from Lieutenant Colonel Dustin P Murphy to author, subject: Please read this for accuracy and any additions (Nov. 5, 2021, 7:46 AM) (on file with author) [hereinafter Murphy E-mail).
25. Email from Lieutenant Colonel Dustin P. Murphy to author, subject: Let’s try one more time (Nov. 6, 2021, 7:12 AM) (on file with author).
26. Coll, supra note 20.
27. Murphy E-mail, supra note 23.
29. Email from Colonel Jeffrey S. Thurnher to author, subject: Please read for accuracy (Nov. 4, 2021, 4:40 PM) (on file with author).
32. Id. Email from Major Rachel L. Walkup to author, subject: Afghan (Sept. 7, 2021, 9:45 AM) (on file with author).
34. Email from Colonel Joseph B. Mackey to author, subject: Afghan (Sept. 7, 2021, 9:30 AM) (on file with author).
35. Email form Lieutenant Colonel Dustin P. Murphy to author, subject: Can you help me with some details here? (Nov. 4, 2021, 8:40 AM) (on file with author).