Lawfare in Afghanistan?

By Mark Martins
Monday, November 22, 2010, 7:00 AM

Kabul, Monday, November 15, 2010 -- Jack Goldsmith invited me more than two months ago to write in this space about our military’s involvement in efforts to build the rule of law in Afghanistan. In his initial post, Jack wondered what I thought about referring to those efforts as “lawfare.”

I apologize for the lateness of my reply and, in advance, for its cumulative length. Adapting T.S. Eliot’s famous line, if I had had more time and if Afghanistan were simpler, I would blog more briefly and more promptly.

To answer Jack adequately, I will need to outline how military operations today are supporting, in theory but also in practice, what is and must be an Afghan- and civilian-led rule of law campaign. Next, I will need to consider alternative meanings of this somewhat contentious name that Jack and his fellow bloggers, Ben Wittes and Bobby Chesney, have given their on-line discourse about hard national security choices. Only then will I be in a position to convey whether and to what extent our military’s counterinsurgency (COIN) operations—and in particular those of the Rule of Law Field Force (ROLFF)—are fittingly described as “lawfare.” I have done this in installments, blogging as I can from the locations where ROLFF is currently operating. These posts were written over the past few weeks; their datelines reflect where I was when I wrote them.

In the end, I agree with Jack and conclude that yes, our efforts do constitute a form of lawfare. But my reasons for reaching that conclusion may differ from his, and they also may constrain how and when I would apply the term to the actions of United States military troops.

Brigadier General Martins, a U.S. Army judge advocate and former infantryman, is the commander of the Rule of Law Field Force--Afghanistan. He can be reached at