Michael's Dispatches

Rule of Law

150215-web1000pxPartners in Law

13 July 2011
Kandahar, Afghanistan

Most Afghans hate warlords.  Most Afghans hate the Taliban.  When the warlords ruled Afghanistan it was lawless, and so many people welcomed the Taliban who beat back the warlords and installed crude justice.  Soon, the Taliban, staggered by their new power, became the new pariah.

After 9/11 the Taliban were beaten back.  This left another justice-vacuum.  We let the vacuum stand because we were not serious about Afghanistan and so we ran off to Iraq.  We finally became serious about Afghanistan in about 2009/2010.  This gave the Taliban and their shadow government most of a decade to regenerate.  Today, they run their own courts, and since 2006 I have heard countless stories from Afghans that they would prefer to have a government (most would, anyway), but they will take the Taliban over a vacuum.  They may hate warlords, but they hate Taliban less.

NATO Rule of Law Field Support Mission

And so to help bring justice to Afghanistan, on the 4 July at Kandahar Airfield, General Petraeus and a retinue of other key persons came to stand up a new command called the NATO Rule of Law Field Support Mission.  The first commander is Brigadier General Mark Martins.  During the past several weeks I’ve had the opportunity to talk with BG Martins for several hours and it’s been quite an education, including the reading list he gave me.


On a side note, General Petraeus also placed BG Martins in charge of the Afghan biogas initiative.  The biogas initiative is important stuff but must wait for a future dispatch.


On 3 July, BG Martins loaded up a C130 transport airplane in Kabul with people involved in Rule of Law, and somehow I scored a seat.

110838-web1000pxIf the Air Force presents you with a flag saying it flew over Afghanistan, it probably did. I see this all the time. They hang flags constantly so they can give them away.

Other key Afghan figures were picked up in Kandahar City by US forces and driven to Kandahar Airfield to join the events, which led to a very funny happening.  We’ll get to that later.

154912-2-Web-1000px-2CSI combat.

Now in Kandahar, during the night of the 3rd, we toured interesting forensics labs until about 10 PM.  On the left is a chief of NDS, the National Directorate of Security.  A US equivalent of NDS would be something of a synthesis between the FBI and CIA.

Believe it or not, we have people in Kandahar who are working overtime on fingerprints, DNA, and weapons and tools forensics.  Judging from previous ground experience, I believe that the forensics people are making an important contribution to the fight and have saved many Coalition lives by bringing the downfall of innumerable enemies.

152404-web1000pxFingerprints are taken from IEDs, small arms, etc.

These forensics labs are not certified to present evidence in Afghan courts but during the tour the Afghans saw potential value.  This is more like CSI combat tracking.  And so the labs are not here to help courts that mostly don’t exist, but to track down bad guys and to clear the non-bad guys when possible.   Unfortunately, as with biogas, that’s another story.

When it comes to Rule of Law, the supposed main topic of this dispatch, the Taliban has been providing crude justice where the Afghan government has been selling corrupt justice (or none at all).  And so now this new Rule of Law outfit is in 20 districts working in the district centers helping to develop the Afghan judicial system, which, oddly, already brings us back to biogas, a topic dear to me.  Why in the world did General Petraeus put the biogas initiative under the Rule of Law command and BG Martins?  The answer is simple.

Organizations such as the Dutch Development Group (SNV) have learned through hard experience in many countries that biogas initiatives can best be implemented at the district level.   Since Rule of Law also should be implemented widely at district level, General Petraeus gave Rule of Law the responsibility for biogas.  In the US military, you have to be able to juggle, play the piano and chew gum at the same time, and so that’s what’s happening and it makes perfect sense.  But again, a digression to biogas.  These two dispatches from 2010 lay out the reasons for district level implementation: Gobar Gas and Gobar Gas II.

105248-web1000pxGobar Gas pilot plant is operating in Kabul. The stove is burning.

Rule of Law folks already installed a pilot biogas plant in Kabul.  The gas was flowing and I saw the flame with my own eyes.   They have completed a biogas digester at the Provincial Court House in Kandahar City and it will be fed by the judges and courthouse toilets, as well as cow dung purchases.  The Kandahar unit is not yet online.  Now that’s a serious tie-in from Rule of Law to biogas.

The Taliban can deliver crude justice, suicide bombers and IED cells, but that’s about it.  They can’t walk and sing at the same time.  They can’t organize a biogas program, build a road, or start mining operations. (Or, for that matter, de-mining operations.) They can intimidate but they cannot inspire.  They can take, but never serve. They can dominate but they cannot govern.

It’s best to close this dispatch with the speech delivered by General Petraeus at the ceremony, but first it’s important to finish the funny story.

After the ceremony, BG Martins got a call.  Someone in the Afghan government had contacted US forces to inquire about a rumor that two judges in Kandahar had been kidnapped by US troops.  They had last been seen getting into an American MRAP vehicle and they had not been heard from in 24 hours.  The rumor was true.  When BG Martins got the call, we were in an air-conditioned room at the new Rule of Law HQ on Kandahar Airfield, and this being the 4th of July there was a big cake with icing in the form of an American flag.  The two judges were with us and we’d already had dinner, breakfast and lunch together, and they had toured the forensics labs and seemed to be having a good time.  They had stayed on base the previous night.  After the call about the potential kidnapping, we all had a big laugh but BG Martins asked them to immediately call home.  The security and governance gains of recent months must still be translated into confidence--another good reason for the new NATO Rule of Law Field Support Mission."



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