Editor’s Note: The Army reached a watershed moment in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in August 2021. This issue of The Army Lawyer features short anecdotes and images from Judge Advocate Legal Services personnel who deployed to Afghanistan in support of operations from 2001 to 2021. The Army Lawyer seeks to honor those who have served in theater and capture some of the lessons our Corps learned through their experiences. Their anecdotes appear in chronological order.
Master Sergeant (U.S. Army, Retired) Jerome Klein
Location: Karshi-Khanabad Air Base,
Uzbekistan, October 2001–April 2002
Before our deployment at the start of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, there was some discussion in 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) about how many legal team members would be taken with the Group headquarters. At first it was only supposed to be the group judge advocate (JA). After some further discussion where it was pointed out that, at some point, the JA must sleep, it was decided it might be prudent to also deploy the group senior paralegal. We quickly provided input for augmentation of the legal team on the joint manning document (JMD), asking for an Air Force JA and paralegal to round out what we were sure would be a joint operation of special forces teams on the ground utilizing air power.
After establishing Joint Special Operations Task Force North– Task Force DAGGER, the legal team was working what amounted to 20-hour days. The noncommissioned officer slept on a tough box in the joint operations center so the JA could get some sleep away from the activity. One particular morning in late October 2001, we had just been informed by the J-1 that our requested augmentation was cut from the JMD. We asked for it to be put back on the JMD. We knew it was vital to get more legal team members, especially in light of what happened that morning: The group judge advocate, then-Captain Dean Whitford, was emailing his wife to send items, when he asked the paralegal noncommissioned officer, then-SSG J.D. Klein, a question that demonstrated the somewhat tired nature of the legal team.
“Hey J.D., I am emailing Brenda and asking for some stuff. How do you spell cappuccino? Is it c-a-p-p-u-c-c-i-n-o, or c-a-pu-c-c-i-n-o?”
To which the following reply showed the tired, but upbeat nature of the legal team:
“Ready, sir? C-O-F-F-E-E”
After a short pause and a look of confusion from CPT Whitford, he said,
“That’s not how you spell cappuccino.”
“Coffee, sir. It’s all coffee.” TAL
MSG (Retired) Klein is a supervisory paralegal for the U.S. Army Claims Service Center for Personnel Claims Support at Fort Knox Kentucky.
Colonel Marie Anderson
& Colonel Kasia Stich
Location: Bagram and Kandahar Airfields,
Afghanistan, July 2003–June 2004
In 2003, then-Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Charles “Chuck” Pede was the staff judge advocate (SJA) for 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), and both he and the division were on their second deployment to Afghanistan. Two years into the war, improvements at Bagram and Kandahar Airfields gave the feeling of almost steady state operations. Deployments were extended well past six months, chow was served three times a day and the post exchanges were generally stocked with the basics. Soldiers certainly appeared more familiar with combat operations than during the initial invasion period. This feeling of settling into some sort of a routine likely contributed to Soldiers’ individual opportunities to engage in misconduct and for commanders to look to options on how to ensure good order and discipline.
Enter LTC Pede. In hindsight, perhaps it is not surprising that LTC Pede had the distinct and expressed vision to provide commanders with the full range of options available under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), including special and general courts-martial while down-range. He was a firm believer in executing justice forward and he found a willing ally in then-Brigadier General Lloyd Austin, Commander, Combined Joint Task Force-180. Lieutenant Colonel Pede fully articulated his intent to his legal team: we would try cases forward whenever possible. For tactical, operational, and strategic reasons, this was the right answer.
It wasn’t long before a 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division Soldier was accused of stealing an Afghan family’s life savings while conducting a cordon and search of their home. This crime was not only egregious, but it had a true impact on the unit’s mission. It was clear that justice would be best served in country, where the victims, witnesses, and accused all resided. This first court-martial demanded a team effort.
The SJA rearticulated the vision: use the UCMJ as intended and try crimes forward to best support commanders in the field. We are the only legal regime that offers the degree of portability and due process for a reason, and we should exercise our mission to ensure justice. In true mission command style, he turned the execution over to the seven judge advocates, one legal administrator, and six paralegals deployed with the Division at Bagram Airfield and 1st Brigade Legal Team at Kandahar Airfield.
The trial team, most of whom were on their first deployment, had some doubts about our abilities to coordinate investigative efforts with the Criminal Investigation Division, generate necessary referral documents, build a courtroom, deploy a military judge to Kandahar, try the court-martial, and complete all post-trial matters. Lieutenant Colonel Pede never doubted us. On the contrary, as only a leader can, he encouraged us, reminded us of the “why,” and trusted our abilities. Creative paralegals found a way to build a courtroom from the abandoned Kandahar International Airport. It was complete with folding counsel tables and bench and a properly-placed American flag. The team cleaned the dusty “courtroom” until it sparkled, checked weapons at the door, and guarded the building overnight from wild dogs who had found shelter there. There was a true understanding of the tactical, operational, and strategic importance of the mission from all involved.
While a first of its kind in Afghanistan, deployed justice was a well-worn path blazed by previous judge advocates in other conflicts, and we all rose to the occasion. However, true leadership—the vision, trust in subordinates, and certainty of how our system best supports commanders in the field—ensured the reality of deployed justice.
Since the Taliban’s return to Kabul on 15 August 2021, many are reflecting on experiences from their respective service in Afghanistan. For the authors, we believe the images coming from Afghanistan as U.S. forces departed reinforces the tenets of this article. First, the UCMJ reflects deep national commitment to due process, military accountability, and the rule of law. Military justice is an invaluable tool commanders use to ensure good order and discipline as we send Soldiers all over the world to protect the lives and interests of Americans.
Second, we must be able to practice our craft in even the most austere environments. Even within a degraded war-time environment, swift justice with due process is a must to maintain good order and discipline of our force. Judge advocates must train, prepare, and deploy to austere locations to enable commanders’ use of this tool everywhere while demonstrating the United States’ commitment to the rule of law to host nation personnel, partners, and allies.
Finally, leadership matters. As the Army moves forward, now with reflections on lessons learned from those opportunities on which we capitalized and those challenges we failed to overcome in the past two decades, Soldiers will look to leaders for guidance and answers. Those leaders must lead, especially during the coming times of immense transition. Their leadership will be the force ensuring our Army continues to be a premier fighting force capable of defending the homeland. TAL
COL Anderson is the Legal Counsel for U.S. Africa Command at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany.
COL Stich is the Staff Judge Advocate for U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Colonel Christopher E. Martin
Location: Kabul, Afghanistan, 2004–2006
Afghan Military Justice
Real Impact in Real Time
From early-2004 to late-2006, the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS) helped lead fifteen legal training missions in Afghanistan and twice organized planning visits to the United States for senior Afghan leaders in an effort to help the Afghan National Army (ANA) rebuild its tattered Soviet-era military justice system. The Office of Military Cooperation–Afghanistan, DIILS, judge advocates from every U.S. military branch, and British and Dutch coalition partners supported ANA and Ministry of Defense leaders in an Afghan-led revision of the military justice criminal code, procedural rules, and court system. Some of these efforts are described in Nation-Building in Afghanistan: Lessons Identified in Military Justice Reform by Major Sean M. Watts and Captain Christopher E. Martin, The Army Lawyer, May 2006, at 1. Eventually, new court facilities were established in each of the five then-existing ANA Corps. In June 2006, less than two-andone-half years after reform efforts began, the ANA successfully and independently conducted its first court-martial in the post-Taliban era. The accused, an ANA officer, admitted to the charged offense of an eight-month absence without leave, but offered extenuation evidence that he had left to care for his sick mother, who later died. The accused was sentenced to one year of confinement, suspended for three years.
Although recent Afghan developments may be hard to accept, it is worth remembering that nothing can take away from the fact that our partnership efforts had a real impact on real people in real time. TAL
COL Martin is a military judge in the U.S. Army Trial Judiciary, 4th Circuit.
Sergeant First Class
Timothy J. Beckwith
Location: Bagram Airfield, Tactical Base
Gamberi, and Resolute Headquarters–Kabul,
Afghanistan, 2005–2006 and 2015–2016
From Asadabad (ABAD) to Jalalabad (JBAD), Masir Sharif to Herat and Bagram; from “private first class-in-charge” of Trial Defense Service to noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Train, Advise, Assist, Command–East (TAAC–E); from Article 6 visits with The Judge Advocate General Major General Thomas Romig and Regimental Command Sergeant Major Michael Glaze to Major General Thomas Ayres and Regimental Command Sergeant Major Joseph “Pat” Lister; from TV-show Friends and Jay-Z’s Diamonds to Big Bang Theory and Flight of the Conchords’s Business Time. From my first tour from 2005 to 2006 to the ten-year anniversary tour in 2015 to 2016, one statement I made to Command Sergeant Major Lister sums up my whole Afghanistan experience: it is amazing to me how much has changed, and yet how little has changed.
To this day, some of my closest friends were made in Afghanistan. They shared some of my deepest losses. During my time in Afghanistan I was the most excited, overwhelmed, and challenged that I have been in my entire life. I learned my strengths and limitations and the value of honor, trust, and teamwork that those who haven’t deployed will never know. I don’t get scared, but I was “startled” quite a few times, and I am a better person for each of those experiences. TAL
SFC Beckwith is the senior paralegal noncommissioned officer and observer, controller/trainer for the 5thArmored Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Colonel (Retired, U.S.
Army) Thomas Umberg
Location: Camp Eggers, Afghanistan,
August 2009–June 2010
Eleven years ago, I was the first Chief of Anti-Corruption at NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan with responsibility for addressing corruption in the Afghan Army and Afghan National Police. One afternoon, I met with an Afghan Army general to discuss the massive loss of coalition fuel and how we might collectively stop what appeared to be theft by our Afghan partners. This particular general fought with the Ahmad Massoud-led Northern Alliance before we arrived in 2001. As a patriarch of a large family he explained the following to me:
I am responsible for a family which includes my wife, children, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and others—maybe 100 in all. They are my first responsibility. We have seen other powers come and go and leave chaos. When the Americans leave, as I know they will, I will have to protect my family. We may have to flee to survive. So “some” who can—take what they can— for the day when the Americans leave. When that day happens —you will understand. TAL
COL (Retired) Umberg was the Chief of Anti-Corruption for NATO Training Mission– Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan at Camp Eggers, Afghanistan. He retired after 33 years of active and reserve duty as a judge advocate.
Colonel Marie Anderson &
Lieutenant Colonel Joey Comley
Location: Kandahar Airfield, Kandahar,
Afghanistan, August 2010–June 2011
Losing an Argument Teaches Key Lessons
in Combined Operations—Shukran
In 2010, then-Captain (CPT) Joey Comley was the chief of operational law for 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) and Combined Joint Task Force Regional Command South deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, as part of the Resolute Support (RS) mission. Under our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission for RS, the Division reported to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Intermediate Joint Command (IJC). As such, CPT Comley and I frequently coordinated with NATO Legal Advisors (LEGADs) within the ISAF IJC office of the staff judge advocate (OSJA). The bulk of this coordination was related to target asset allocation and target validation issues. These regular exchanges amongst LEGADs, calling for international legal application and debate of Commander ISAF (COMISAF) policy parameters, were some of the most operationally-significant and professionally-rewarding experiences of our deployment. They substantially expanded the aperture of considerations used in the application of force by even the most battle-hardened of commanders including then-Brigadier General Jeffrey L. Bannister, Deputy Commander for Operations, who often told others that, “The answer was ‘no’ because the lawyer said so, but that’s okay ‘cause he’s forcing us to separate the fly shit from the pepper.”
In advance of one particular target validation discussion, Joey came to me and asked for my assistance. The target was important to BG Bannister, and Joey’s initial discussions with ISAF IJC LEGADs suggested it would be difficult to gain their concurrence for this target. I reviewed the target packet and discussed the legal issues with Joey. Without getting into classified discussion, it is safe to say that this disagreement amongst practitioners centered largely on a weighing of two factors: 1) temporal considerations informing the “for such time as” element of direct part in hostilities from Article 51(3) of Additional Protocol 1 vice 2) the combat function and consequence of the hostile activities that the same individual was known to have directly participated in. Feeling confident, I placed a call to Joey’s counterpart who was a lawyer from the Australian Defence Forces (ADF). After a lively discussion about the finer points of what it means to take a direct part in hostilities, I confirmed that my rank was not a substitute for Joey’s knowledge of law, policy, and regulation. We had to tell BG Bannister that we either needed additional intelligence or a different target. Although I was embarrassed by my lack of effective advocacy, this engagement provided an invaluable lesson about what it means to serve in a Combined Joint Task Force.
Joey and I were trained to view the law of war through the lens of a U.S. legal education and U.S. policy interpretation of what it means to take a direct part in hostilities. Although the ISAF IJC commander wore a uniform emblazoned with a U.S. flag and a U.S. Army patch, he served in a NATO billet. He received legal advice from lawyers of various troop-contributing nations. Their legal advice was informed by their training and understanding of international law. Interpretive differences between the United States and other nations may be slight, but in cases like this, they could result in different outcomes for target validation. To be more effective advocates for our command, Joey and I would have to study different interpretations of international law.
The United States was not alone in deploying forces to Afghanistan. For twenty years, the U.S. military was joined by service members from various troop-contributing nations, many of whom also deployed LEGADs. In some cases, these LEGADs advised their own nation’s forces. In other cases, they were part of the joint manning documents advising NATO commanders from the United States and other nations. Many of us who served in Afghanistan were fortunate to work side by side with these extremely talented foreign LEGADs. Joey and I, and the other members of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) OSJA, want to express our most-sincere and deepest gratitude to those foreign LEGADs. You made us better. With professionalism, humor, and extreme competency, you taught us lessons on law, operations, and what it means to be a command legal advisor. We are grateful in general to all those LEGADs and specifically to the Australian Defence Force attorney who schooled Joey and me on the limits of taking a direct part in hostilities.
In the words of our Afghan partners, “Shukran”—Thanks! TAL
Authors’ notes: Major General Jeffrey Bannister, who later went on to command the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) and Fort Drum, passed away while still on active duty. As written in his obituary, he was a legendary Soldier. He also never failed to make time to listen to legal advice and mentor judge advocates to make us better command legal advisors.
For LTC Comley and the Operations Section, Major General Bannister often used a oneof-a-kind north Georgia way of telling someone to take a more detail-oriented approach. He is referenced herein with the utmost respect and remains LTC Comley’s most reliable and seasoned general when it came to appropriately accounting for risk to mission and risk to force.
COL Anderson is Legal Counsel for U.S. Africa Command at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany.
LTC Comley is the chief of military justice for V Corps at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Captain Noah D. Johnson
Location: Delaram, Afghanistan,
January 2011–July 2011
Hot. Sandy. Dangerous. Exhilarating. Boring. The death of my idealism. My proudest moment of service. All of these things describe my time in Afghanistan.
I spent the majority of 2011 embedded with the 2d Brigade of the 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Back then, I was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marines, and I was laughably asked to fill a medical advisor slot on a manning document when I had neither medical experience nor advising experience. However, as Marines are known for, I was happy to adapt and overcome. My state school business degree would have to suffice.
My time in country was spent living and working with my Afghan counterparts, many of whom had been fighting a war—on-and-off-again—for the better part of twenty years: first against the Russians, occasionally against each other, and now against the Taliban. Many were good-spirited, but most were disinterested, and knew that my vigor to improve the Afghan Army, and therefore, Afghanistan, would not outlast their perpetual war.
It turns out, they were right.
When I spoke with Afghan civilians when I was on a foot patrol, they quickly ended my idealism: these particular individuals had no interest in democracy, the rule of law, or my Western values. They simply yearned for security, an end to their suffering, and, understandably, a better life for their children than they had. I fear my time in Afghanistan brought them none of these things.
My tour of duty saw improvised explosive device strikes, I was shot at, I was denied sleep for days, and I chain-smoked Marlboro cigarettes bought for $20 a carton off the local economy. I had the time of my life. I was honored to have served with my fellow Marines. TAL
CPT Johnson is the military justice advisor for the Arctic Support Command (Provisional), United States Army Alaska, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Lieutenant Colonel Nagesh Chelluri
Location: Kabul, Afghanistan,
July 2011–June 2012
I deployed to Afghanistan on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It was my follow-on assignment from the Graduate Course at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, and I was excited to go. I spent my pre-deployment trying to learn Dari and continued to do so throughout my tour in Afghanistan. Being South Asian, I feel a certain historical kinship with the people of Afghanistan. The Indian Mauryan Empire filled the void in Afghanistan after Alexander the Great and the first Mughal emperor of India, Babur, came to India from his capital in Kabul in 1526 to begin a dynasty that lasted until 1857. I was assigned to NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan (NTM–A) and stationed at Camp Alamo, a small post within the Kabul Military Training Center. It was a multinational post, and forming friendships with our coalition partners was a rewarding experience. My team’s mission was to help stand up the Afghan National Army (ANA) Legal School. The motto of NTM–A was “Shona-ba-Shona” or “Shoulder to Shoulder” in Dari, and we trained in that spirit with our ANA counterparts.
When I arrived, the ANA instructors taught the courses; we were there to mentor and advise. I was the advisor to Colonel Muhibullah Zaheer, the school’s Deputy Commander for Educational Affairs. One of his duties was to devise the course schedule for the school commander. As the only judge advocate on the team with experience in a brigade, I worked with Colonel Zaheer to develop the first Brigade Legal Office Course, which was among my most rewarding achievements during the deployment. At the end of my deployment, our legal school advisor team disbanded, and our Canadian judge advocate remained to close out. He informed us shortly after our return that the ANA legal school was the first ANA branch school to be characterized as “independent” of NTM–A. In view of this development, we had helped all our interpreters with their Special Immigrant Visa packets before we redeployed. I’m happy to say all five interpreters were out of the country by 2015. Despite everything that happened last year, I feel we successfully did our small part to advance the rule of law. TAL
LTC Chelluri is the deputy staff judge advocate for U.S. Army Installation Management Command at Joint Base San Antonio–Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Mr. Peter Merkl
Location: Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan,
August 2012–February 2013
I was still half asleep when the first rocket hit just before dawn. It sounded far off, but what did I know? It was my first.
It may have been my first, but I had no doubt what it was. Things bang and boom on a military base in Afghanistan all day and night, but there was an unmistakable, percussive finality to it that shook awake some primitive, previously dormant part of my brain. As a new federal civilian employee and 53-year-old, loyal citizen of Recliner Nation USA, I simply couldn’t get my mind around this disturbing fact: people were shooting powerful explosives in my direction, and they’d rejoice if they managed to kill me.
The next one, maybe twenty seconds later, hit closer. Wide-awake now, I realized that the base warning system had been blaring out an alert to take cover and put on our bullet-proof vests and helmets. I pulled the covers over my head.
The third one was nearer still. I was surprised by how powerful the explosions were. Based on my experience with July 4th bottle rockets, I’d assumed that all rockets were mostly propellant. But these things sounded more like big bombs.
The fourth and fifth marched even closer. I remembered that at lunch the day before, a tired veteran of three deployments told me, “You’re OK unless you hear one whistle. If you hear that, it’s close.”
And then I heard a whistling sound.
“No freakin’”—I shot under my bed faster than when I was six and saw something ‘move’ in my closet— “way!” The huge explosion shook my quarters so violently that I thought it was going to collapse. When the all-clear finally sounded, I asked myself yet again, “What the heck am I doing here?”
I’d only been a federal employee for a few months when I got the recruitment email. I’d been planted in Corpus Christi, Texas, for twenty-five years, and out of nowhere I was being asked to volunteer for six months in Afghanistan. But then I thought, if Uncle Sam put up the “Bat Signal,” and I was the best he could do, then count me in, never thinking for a second I’d actually get picked.
So, why send civilians into a warzone? Years ago, the military decided that Soldiers would do the fighting, and civilians would serve in support roles. We cook, clean, and clerk for the troops.
The hours are brutal: 12/7/365. Basically, if you’re awake, you’re at work; if you’re asleep, you’re not. The days pass in a blur of similarity. You go to the same place, do the same thing, and see the same people: like the movie Groundhog Day. We don’t check our watches to see what time it is; we check them to see what day of the week it is.
What does Afghanistan look like? Picture the lunar surface, but all the moon dust is blowing around. The whole country makes me edgy. I don’t trust the air because you can see it; I don’t trust the mountains because they frequently disappear in the dusty air; I don’t trust the birds because they skitter around as guiltily as informants; and, at a time when I never needed a beer more in my life, the place is dry.
But it’s all worth it to serve our troops. For an older guy to be treated with such courtesy and respect by young Americans is unusual. Their goodness breaks your heart. Make no mistake, they’re lethal. They carry their loaded automatic weapons everywhere they go on base, to the point that I constantly feel underdressed without an M-16. And they’re brave enough to volunteer to go outside the wire and fight a war against an army of people willing to perform suicidal acts to advance their mission.
But they’re also just kids. At Thanksgiving dinner, they argued happily about the Cowboys and Redskins while eating facsimiles of turkey and all the trimmings. But you could see it in their suddenly stony expressions as each was overwhelmed by memories of home. And then to see their buddies jolly them out of their sad reveries . . . it was beautiful.
This is an impressive group of young people. They’re hardened by more than a decade of war, strengthened by their discipline and sacrifice, and painfully aware of the real price of foreign policy. From what I’ve seen, we could be looking at a truly transformative generation. They deserve a warm welcome and our lasting gratitude and respect when they finally come marching home.TAL
Mr. Merkl wrote this piece in 2013 after returning from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. It was previously published in the Caller Times on 2 March 2013. It has been revised and reprinted with the permission of the Caller Times. He retired as an attorneyadvisor from the Corpus Christi Army Depot in November 2021.
Major Ravi T. Kambhampaty
Location: RC-East, North of Kabul (Laghman, Kunar, and Nangarhar Provinces),
Afghanistan, July 2013–March 2014
I deployed to then-Forward Operating Base (FOB) Fenty located in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. At the time, I was a mobilized Army Reservist (and a brand new captain), who was attached to 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry). The brigade was transformed into a Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) and was assigned a Train, Advise and Assist mission in support of the 201st Corps of the Afghan National Army. We were also assigned collaborative work across various lines of effort in the provinces assigned to its area of responsibility (AOR).
I was privileged to work on the rule of law mission. I coordinated with the key inter-agency and international partners who were in the AOR to ensure that rule of law missions were not conducted in a vacuum or wholly contingent on U.S. resourcing. These efforts had to be nested with the higher headquarter priorities. The accompanying photograph depicts a monthly inter-agency/international coordination meeting that I organized on the FOB to discuss and address various issues relevant to the rule of law effort and its impacts on the Governance Line of Development effort that was a priority at the operational and strategic level.
In addition to personnel from the brigade, the meeting involved Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), law enforcement professional contractors, Afghan non-governmental organizations that had been vetted and funded by USAID, and on occasion, the United Nations Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) personnel. The purposes of the meeting were to create a common sight picture amongst the various participants and to enhance cross-functional situational awareness, and to focus our collective work on projects that were rooted in the realities of Afghanistan and were believed to be sustainable without permanent U.S. support.
While the current situation in Afghanistan is tragic, and it is hard to conjure any meaningful lesson learned, I do believe that effective engagement with the inter-agency early on is critical when tasked with rule of law and similar missions. These engagements need to be appropriately vetted with the military chain of command and coordinated to ensure that there are no overreaches in authority or binding of positions of military commanders. These efforts also need to account for local realities and projects that cannot be sustained without the globally-unique stature of the U.S. military need to be reconsidered.
Ultimately, my time in Afghanistan was of deep significance to me personally as someone who was born in South Asia (Andhra Pradesh, India). I will be forever grateful to have worked with fantastic colleagues: the active duty brigade judge advocate and team who took me (an Army Reservist less than a year out of the Basic Course on my first deployment) on, mentored me, and gave me an understanding of effective staff operations at the brigade level; the great colleagues from across the U.S. Government and, most profoundly, the Afghans themselves. TAL
MAJ Kambhampaty is an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the National Security Law Section of Third Army/U.S. Army Central’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. In his civilian capacity, he is an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice in the National Security Division.
Captain Aaron Pool
Location: Kandahar City, Afghanistan, 2014
In 2014, my platoon was the last infantry platoon stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Walton in Kandahar City. We were partnered with eight of the ten police substations covering the city and would regularly try to help train, work with, and provide support to the commanders. I never could tell ahead of time which materials we brought to the area would be used to improve their area, or would ultimately be sold for personal profit instead.
In 2014, we were heavily focused on retrograde operations which meant closing most of the smaller FOBs and bringing supplies and material back to Kandahar Airfield. We were giving away, shipping home, or destroying a lot of extra equipment and material. Forward Operating Base Walton had a large plywood scrap pile that I made available to one of the police substation (PSS) commanders to take some for his district. I believed he was going to use it to maintain some of his guard shacks since many of them were built from plywood. After he loaded his truck, he expressed frustration with me that it was not as much as he had hoped for, and he would not make much money when he sold it. That was the last time we gave him supplies.
Another encounter had a very different outcome. A PSS commander asked me for some hesco boxes. Hescos are large rectangular chain link fence boxes with cardboard inserts that can be filled with dirt to build walls or provide protection from enemy fire at outposts or FOBs. We had an extra CONEX full, so he brought a truck and I gave him as many as it could hold. I’ll never forget the look on the truck driver’s face when his entire truck sagged from the forklift dropping the hescos into the bed. The next time I conducted a key leader engagement with the PSS commander, he invited me into a new hut in the courtyard of his station. Three sides of the hut were the chain link fence portions of the hescos I had given him. They had removed the cardboard, woven grass through the links, and rigged up a water pipe to drip water down one side. With the slightest breeze, the entire hut resembled one large swamp cooler. After twenty minutes in the hut, I was shivering, and this was in the middle of the summer in Kandahar City.
Much of the support and resources we provided the Afghans during my time there seemed like it was not sustainable without our direct participation. However, that outdoor swamp cooler was something the Afghans took initiative to create themselves by repurposing materials we provided. The result was something the Afghans could take pride in and hopefully continue to use long after we left. TAL
CPT Pool is the brigade judge advocate for 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Captain Nandor Kiss
Location: Headquarters, Resolute Support,
Kabul, Afghanistan, May–August 2017
In May 2017, I deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, to serve as part of the Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan’s Essential Function 3–Rule of Law (CSTC–A EF3). While in that role, I was given the incredible opportunity to work alongside a team of North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Afghan partners to restructure the Afghan National Army’s personnel laws. In order to combat corruption and inefficiency, we drafted extensive legislative changes and presented them to the Afghan government for implementation. President Ghani was so impressed with the work that he invited the team and me to the presidential palace in Kabul where we presented the plan to members of his cabinet. One of the best things about working in a deployed environment was the leadership’s willingness to place relatively junior personnel into positions to effect real change. I am eternally grateful for leaders like Brigadier General Clayton Moushon (U.S. Air Force) and Colonel John Siemietkowski, Director and Deputy Director of EF-3, for trusting and empowering me and the rest of our team. TAL
CPT Kiss is an appellate counsel for the U.S. Army Defense Appellate Division at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Captain Thomas P. Edmonds
Location: Resolute Support Headquarters & Hamid Karzai International Airport,
Kabul, Afghanistan, 2017–2018
Rule Makers and Law Breakers
Developing the Rule of Law in Afghanistan
Developing the Rule of Law in Afghanistan
In 2017, I deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan. I had the honor of serving with Essential Function 3 (EF3) Rule of Law, Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, U.S. Forces–Afghanistan. Its mission was to counter corruption and strengthen the trust between the Afghan people and their officials by developing an honest judicial system and punishing violators of the law in an equitable manner. Our responsibilities included developing laws with the Afghan government, confront human rights violations, reduce incidents of torture, battle the use of child soldiers, and eliminate the acceptance of bacha bazi—“dancing boy.”
By late 2017, with the help of the United Nations staff, the Afghan government prohibited the practice of bacha bazi, writing it into the Afghan criminal code. The rule of law got a win, but our mission was not over. Little did we know, the mission just got tougher because now we had to enforce the law. Enforcing the new criminal code meant arresting violators, protecting witnesses, earning trust from victims to testify, and developing a transparent judicial system to give a fair verdict. I worked tirelessly with some of the best people in my career, a team comprised of Afghan lawyers, soldiers, policemen and women, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officials, contractors, and U.S. federal civilian employees.
United States and NATO Forces have now pulled out of Afghanistan. I do not know what will happen to the rule of law in Afghanistan, or what will happen to the people who are still fighting. I worry about my friends battling the Taliban, as they struggle to preserve order. We gave our blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish the rule of law mission, becoming a family in the process. I pray they can hold their ground and maintain the laws we put in place together. I pray for those still there. I pray for rule of law in Afghanistan. TAL
CPT Edmonds is a military law attorney for U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Virginia.
Major Mike Gilbertson
Location: Bagram Airfield,
Afghanistan, May–June 2019
I was the Group Judge Advocate (GJA) for the Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) at Fort Meade, Maryland, from 2017 to 2019. Briefly stated, AWG’s operational advisors (OAs) were military, civilian, and contractor subject matter experts (SME), typically from the special forces (SF) community, deployed in two-to-three person teams worldwide and tasked to solve the hardest problem sets that others did not have the time or resources to solve.
As I supported AWG’s globally-deployed OAs and read their weekly reports, there were several ongoing concerns about the emerging threat of weaponized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the Middle East and the conventional Army’s lack of effective counter-UAS (c-UAS) tactics, techniques, and procedures. In addition to our c-UAS technological shortfall, the OAs stated that many conventional Army commanders were confused on the appropriate rules of engagement (ROE) for the c-UAS fight. As a judge advocate (JA), I found this issue concerning, but I remembered that a previous AWG GJA deployed to Iraq around 2008 and developed a successful warrant-based targeting program for the U.S.-Iraqi detention effort. After conducting research and coordinating virtually with U.S. Army stakeholders in Afghanistan to understand the problem, the AWG Group Commander approved my trip to see the problem for myself and to propose a possible solution.
Most of my time in Afghanistan was spent at Bagram Airfield working with JAs and c-UAS SMEs supporting the base defense operations center, SMEs conducting c-UAS systems training, members of the Rapid Equipping Force (REF), and SF and Army Intelligence units. I also had the good fortune to spend some time in Kabul with the U.S. Forces–Afghanistan office of the staff judge advocate and work on this project with their chief of intelligence law and their Australian operational law JA. This effort, which would not have been possible without the collaboration among those deployed Army JAs, resulted in an unclassified c-UAS ROE training package requested by JAs and SMEs alike from across the joint force and U.S. Government. TAL
MAJ Gilbertson is the command judge advocate for the 1st Infantry Division (forward) at Poznan, Poland.
Captain Jonathan M. Harrar
Location: Bagram, Afghanistan, 2019–2020
On 12 December 2019 in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, I awoke from a deep sleep early in the morning to a loud thud. A few things had flown off of my containerized housing unit wall and the very first thought that came to this meathead’s brain was, “I think they blew up the gym.” As the on-call judge advocate for base defense, I started to slowly put my PTs on to meander over to the Base Defense Operations Center (BDOC) until I heard a young Soldier shout, “we are under attack, wake the [explitive] up, we are under attack!” Another Soldier yelled at him to calm down and I thought to myself, “that was a bit dramatic.” Then I heard it—for the first time in the several months that I had been at Bagram, they played the cavalry charge over the “big voice.” This was far different than the “incoming, incoming, incoming” we heard almost daily; this meant we were actually under attack. From where? How? We are behind massive T-Walls? Are they on the compound? Insider attack? There were too many questions, but I knew where I had to be. I grabbed my weapon and sprinted to the BDOC as fast as I could.
I spent the next eighteen hours (with a short relief from Major Prasad, U.S. Air Force) giving the most influential legal opines I may ever give. Though I cannot get into specifics, on 12 December 2019, I felt like part of the team. The commanders and staff looked to me for suggestions and information in a wildly dynamic situation with numerous legal issues presenting themselves.
What I will never forget that day is watching several 82d Airborne Division Soldiers who I personally knew, worked with, and spent hours on the BDOC floor with run to the sound of gunfire in their PTs. One of them came back to the BDOC for a coffee break, and then went back out to throw grenades into the windows where the intruders were shooting from!
I don’t know that I offered much to what transpired that day, but I was proud to be part of a team that made sure not a single person was seriously injured and every single intruder was neutralized. I was also very happy that the compound gym was not destroyed as I was approaching a new deadlift record.TAL
CPT Harrar is currently a military justice advisor for the Joint Task Force–National Capital Region and U.S. Military District of Washington at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.
Colonel Perry Wadsworth
& Lieutenant Colonel
LLocation: Kabul, Afghanistan, 2019– 2020 and 2020–2021 respectively
Rule of Law and the CounterCorruption Advisory Group
Serving as a Soldier First
Every judge advocate is familiar with the Corps’s motto: “Soldiers first, lawyers always!” The import of being a Soldier first— particularly in being a competent Army officer—is especially seen in the handful of judge advocate authorizations in which they lead organizations conducting military operations rather than providing traditional legal advice. The Director, Rule of Law and the Counter-Corruption Advisory Group (ROL/CCAG) was one such authorization.
The ROL/CCAG directorate executed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Essential Function 3, Civilian Governance of the Afghan Security Institutions and Adherence to Rule of Law. This legal line of effort fit within Operation RESOLUTE SUPPORT’s mission to train, advise, and assist (TAA) the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in both the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, which were the military and civilian security forces, respectively. In aggressively exercising disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent, ROL leaders planned a comprehensive rule of law and counter-corruption campaign, coordinated with the interagency and coalition partner leaders, and integrated initiatives with those of the other staff principals.
The TAA mission focused principally on ROL matters, which involved working with host-nation Afghan leadership and the legal and inspector general departments in the Afghan ministries of defense and interior. The 2004 Afghanistan constitution provided an Islamic legal framework, which challenged a number of initiatives, such as women’s rights, because ROL teams could not impose Western legal requirements. Nevertheless, working with Afghans at all levels created positive influences and progress in many areas, such as a more transparent legal system and vastly-improved investigative abilities.
The counter-corruption effort protected billions of dollars given by donor nations annually. Consistent with the RESOLUTE SUPPORT mission, the CCAG principally focused on corruption in five broad categories: ANDSF pay, facilities, maintenance, distribution of supplies and commodities to the ANDSF, and corruption associated with the Afghan legal system. In addition to conducting counter-corruption activities, the CCAG assisted in identifying potential insider threats to protect coalition forces.
The Director, ROL/CCAG led experienced civilian and military attorneys conducting rule of law missions and a team of contractors composed of the finest law enforcement and intelligence professionals in the world conducting counter-corruption activities. The team deftly worked with a wide variety of coalition, joint, and interagency entities to help the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan govern with legitimacy and fairness in the eyes of not just the international community, but of all Afghans as well. The honor of conducting such a mission and leading such an extraordinary team is indescribable. Judge advocates must develop as Soldiers throughout their career to be prepared to serve as a special staff officer when the nation calls them to do so, even in the most challenging environments. TAL
The authors wish to thank two CCAG members, LTC (Retired) Tim Troutman and Dave Swingle, for their assistance with this article.
COL Wadsworth is the commander of the 153d Legal Operations Detachment at Horsham, Pennsylvania.
LTC Clayton is the staff judge advocate for the U.S. Army Support Activity at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Major Justin MacDonald
Location: Kabul, Afghanistan,
Kabul was bustling when I first arrived in June 2021 to Resolute Support Headquarters (RSHQ), a fortified compound adjacent to U.S. Embassy Kabul (USEK) serving as the primary location for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) military mission in Afghanistan for the past 20 years. I saw several foreign military service members on the installation and, while not as full as in years past, the circle of flagpoles in front of RSHQ’s well-known “Yellow Building” still flew a not-insignificant contingent of international banners. Most notably, the atmosphere was not one of concern over the future of the mission or Afghanistan as a whole, nor of elation at the prospect of the long-standing enterprise finally ending after two decades. Instead it simply felt like business as usual, a strange proposition to encounter at the time. In my short stint at RSHQ (seven weeks, during which the location became known as the USEK South Compound), the atmosphere changed drastically and did so quickly.
Flags began to disappear, one at a time, along with more and more people. Then the Italian market, which was only open sporadically and was typically half empty, closed its doors for good. The international boulevard (my own term), a narrow, paving-stone path wandering its way through shipping containers converted into various offices or social gathering places for different nations, and decorated accordingly, evoked images of centuries-old corridors in Europe and corner cafes ideal for lounging lazily. It now sat empty, abandoned to the unknown future of Afghanistan, non-threatening in the bright sunlight of summer days in Kabul, yet still eerie to walk through at times, knowing the history seen by those paths and walls and the possible ending on the near horizon. The somber aura was magnified only by the ever-increasing and concerning reports of Taliban advances flooding every email inbox daily.
Though I left Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban entered Kabul on 15 August 2021, and the presence of people within the South Compound counterintuitively increased by the time I departed (mostly from USEK personnel making quick trips over from their side of the fence), I’m still haunted by the empty feeling of the grounds as the end drew near. In retrospect, the image feels prophetic in nature, a portent of the frightening result to come and the spectral legacy left behind. Who will occupy that space in the future and how will they look upon the previous tenants? The answers are both elusive and harrowing. TAL
MAJ MacDonald is an associate professor in the National Security Law Department at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Members of the Office of the
Staff Judge Advocate, Defense
Security Cooperation Management
Location: Al Udeid Air Base,
Qatar, June–November 2021
In the aftermath of the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, on 15 August 2021, Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, became a hub for Afghan refugees desperate to escape Taliban rule. Within days, tens of thousands of former Afghan government officials, security forces, and others at risk, along with their family members, flooded into the Qatari air base, prompting a temporary, but significant, shift in mission focus across the installation. Operation Allies Refuge, as the effort came to be known, soon became top priority for many entities, including the Defense Security Cooperation Management Office–Afghanistan (DSCMO–A) and its legal office personnel, ultimately helping process around 60,000 refugees in Qatar alone.
More than half of the DSCMO–A legal office (3 attorneys, 2 paralegals, and 1 legal administrator) volunteered to work 12-hour shifts in the refugee hangars/tents, serving as a floor boss for a 6,000-person staging facility, handling movement of persons on and off aircraft, and doing more cleaning than thought possible. The staff judge advocate and three attorneys maintained daily DSCMO–A operations while also surging to assist the refugee effort for two-to-four hour stints on multiple occasions. In the midst of massive human suffering, each person had the opportunity to witness selfless service and a level of humanity rarely seen in action, and collect experiences not soon forgotten.
Of common note upon entering any of the Afghan housing areas and confronted with the chaos of thousands of refugees, was the feeling of exhaustion, frustration, and uncertainty. To see the conditions was often disheartening, and while it was difficult to stay positive, rays of light were a frequent occurrence and contributed immensely to sustaining morale throughout the force. Some moments will forever stand out—like the dozens of children running playfully through buildings, helping to pick up trash, and eagerly seeking fist bumps whenever possible; or the spontaneous soccer matches and sprinting competitions between young Afghans and Service members, which brought an air of levity; or, by no means least of all, the support from all sides when problems arose, pushing back with positivity, determination, and professionalism to meet the challenging circumstances head on. Striving day after day to help others, no matter the difficulty, was the common theme, and reward, for all.
The call of duty was strong, and from it not one person shied away, no matter the level of discomfort with the long hours, immense heat, exposure to illness, or the amount of refuse needing removal. In an awe-inspiring way, the joint and total force Judge Advocate General’s Corps stepped up without question, proving its personnel are all-in, no matter the mission. All who participated should feel immensely proud, as should colleagues back home, for the honor brought to the legal profession. TAL
The following members of the office of the staff judge advocate, DSCMO–A, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, assisted in this mission and contributed to this piece:
COL Ryan Dowdy was the staff judge advocate for DSCMO–A.
CDR Rob Alwine (U.S. Navy) was the deputy staff judge advocate for DSCMO–A.
LTC Matt Pullman was the director, Rule of Law/Counter-Corruption Advisory Group for DSCMO–A.
MAJ Todd Chard was the chief, contract and fiscal law for DSCMO–A.
MAJ Justin MacDonald was the chief, national security law for DSCMO–A.
MAJ Matt Wyatt was the chief, military justice and administrative law for DSCMO–A.
Capt Rachel Palacios (U.S. Air Force) was a contract and fiscal law attorney for DSCMO–A.
CW2 Vanessa Sachon was the legal administrator for DSCMO–A.
SGT Taylor Mercer was the paralegal noncommissioned officer-in-charge for DSCMO–A.
SPC Jacob Acosta was a paralegal specialist for DSCMO–A.