Our Rule of Law Field Support Officers series continues with a post from Lt. Chris Cook.
Lt. Chris Cook, Kandahar Provincial Police Headquarters
My deployment to Afghanistan was the adventure of a lifetime. I was assigned as a Rule of Law Field Support Officer (ROLFSO) to Kandahar Provincial Police Headquarters (PHQ) in Kandahar City. As a ROLFSO at Kandahar PHQ, my role was particularly focused on the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the investigative portion of Afghan law enforcement. The police force in Afghanistan is a critical mechanism for the Afghan government to fight the insurgency as well as to provide services to its people. In many ways, the police are the face of the Afghan government and the first governmental entity to interact with the Afghan people. They are perhaps the most visible and scrutinized element of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Thus, the professionalization of the ANP, and the facilitation of a police force grounded in the rule of law, is an indispensable ingredient to success in Afghanistan.
As the resident judge advocate and ROLFSO at the PHQ in Kandahar, I was at the forefront of this effort. To put Kandahar PHQ in perspective, over 90 percent of all insurgent detainees/cases in the province get routed through this compound. It was therefore critical to have legal mentors on hand to assist in processing these cases through the system and help set a course for a successful prosecution. To that end, most of my days were spent interacting with ANP investigators evaluating evidence and providing input, feedback, and advice on nearly every insurgent case that made its way through the organization. I helped facilitate a legal framework to ANP investigations, and assisted with arrest reports, warrants, witness statements, and other legal requirements. I also focused on ensuring the humane treatment detainees and helped to reinforce best practices. Additionally, I was involved in providing technical assistance to the Afghans, such as forensic capability and the exploitation of evidence.
Through it all, this effort was critical to ensuring that the most robust prosecution packages were compiled before they hit the desks of Afghan prosecutors and judges. Because of its strategic location, Kandahar PHQ was also the central hub of activity for numerous high-profile investigations that had important ramifications for Afghanistan as a whole. For example, I was heavily involved in the highly visible assassination cases of the Kandahar Provincial Chief of Police and the Kandahar City Mayor. The assassination of the Kandahar Provincial Chief of Police was an especially significant case for me, as the victim was a man who I had sat down for tea with numerous times, and had been killed in close proximity to me and members of my team. On that harrowing afternoon, a suicide bomber made his way inside our compound and detonated himself only a about a hundred yards or so from where we were standing. Luckily, my friends and I were unharmed, and we were able to assist in building a strong case against those responsible. Almost immediately after the blast, my team and I set to work facilitating the investigation. We aggressively coordinated with key Afghan officials to ensure a professional and efficient inquiry.
Throughout it all, I am confident our efforts helped expose the conspiracy that led to the attack and directly aided in the positive identification of the suicide bomber responsible for the killing, which was reported to be the first ever such identification in Kandahar Province. Although it was an arduous assignment in an embedded location in the field, subject to attacks and other hardships and away from the comforts of a normal base of operations, my job at Kandahar Provincial Police Headquarters was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Working with the Afghans and spearheading the rule of law efforts with the ANP in Kandahar will be something I will never forget and can always be proud of. I am honored to have been a part of an organization that was focused on what continues to be one of the most vital elements necessary for lasting security throughout Afghanistan.