Today’s post is from Lt. Philip Rohlfing who was assigned to Nawah-ye Barakzai District.
Lt. Philip Rohlfing, Helmand Province, Afghanistan
I was assigned as a Rule of Law Field Support Officer (ROLFSO) to Nawah-ye Barakzai District (Nawa), a remote district in Helmand Province. As a ROLFSO, I was at the forefront of efforts by Afghanistan and its international partners to fill a void of sub-national governance that is a source of local, regional, and global instability. Nawa is a prime example of projecting governance into a traditionally ungoverned area. Like many other efforts in Afghanistan, building relationships with Afghan officials is the key to success, and something which requires daily interaction.
I worked at the district level, or at a spoke, and was stationed at Patrol Base Jaker, a company-sized patrol base co-located with the District Center. Being co-located afforded me the perfect opportunity to partner with Nawa justice officials. In fact, the justice center, which was recently opened and includes a courtroom and office space for justice officials, was a mere 100 yards away. It wasn’t rare to sit cross legged with the prosecutor, Huquq (a formal justice actor very much like an arbitrator), or any other justice official, sipping chai tea and eating a hearty meal of chicken, rice, and flat bread. It beat our normal fare, meals ready to eat (MREs). A major line of effort included streamlining criminal cases from arrest to trial. Having a good working relationship with the prosecutors and the police allowed me to facilitate this effort. In May, Nawa saw its first capital murder case go from arrest to trial since pre-Taliban rule. The case was a spousal murder case where the defendant was sentenced to 16 years in prison. High visibility cases such as these instill public confidence in the rule of law, which helps provide the required stability and security necessary for transition.
Another line of effort included linking informal dispute resolution with formal dispute resolution. Afghan law is very complex, bringing with it a variety of legal sources, including Sharia and statutory law. Many disputes are settled informally at a shura or a jirga. Although these decisions are largely followed, a key component to rule of law efforts is to link those informal decisions with formal mechanisms. For instance, many disputes that are decided informally can be registered with the office of the Huquq. This link provides legitimacy both in the eyes of the community and the government as a whole. Although the amenities typical of large forward operating bases weren’t always present, my individual augmentation has been both fulfilling and enjoyable.
Being assigned as a Rule of Law Field Support Officer has provided me the opportunity not only to work alongside Afghans, but also alongside the other branches of the U.S. military, our coalition partners, civilians, and a variety of U.S. and international nongovernmental organizations. Considering the fact that the mission itself is essential to creating a secure and stable Afghanistan, it is not an exaggeration to say that my time spent in Afghanistan will be one of the most fulfilling assignments I have in my career. The friends and acquaintances I have made here will last a lifetime.