Search Penny Hill Press

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Afghanistan: U.S. Rule of Law and Justice Sector Assistance

Liana Sun Wyler
Analyst in International Crime and Narcotics

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Developing effective Afghan justice sector institutions is considered by many observers to be essential in winning the support of the Afghan population, improving the Afghan government’s credibility and legitimacy, and reducing support for insurgent factions. Such sentiments are reinforced in the face of growing awareness of the pervasiveness of Afghan corruption. To this end, establishing the rule of law (ROL) in Afghanistan has become a priority in U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and an issue of interest to Congress. Numerous U.S. programs to promote ROL are in various stages of implementation and receive ongoing funding and oversight from Congress. Major programs include the following:
  • State Department’s Justice Sector Support Program (JSSP) and Corrections System Support Program (CSSP); 
  • U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) formal and informal ROL stabilization programs (RLS);
  • Justice Department’s (DOJ’s) Senior Federal Prosecutors Program, which, with State Department funds, provides legal mentoring and training; and
  • Defense Department’s (DOD’s) operational support through Combined Joint Task Force 101 (CJTF-101), as well as through Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 (CJIATF-435). 

It is difficult to identify all the programs, activities, and actors involved in ROL in Afghanistan, in part because of the continued evolution of U.S. strategy and interagency coordination for supporting the Afghan justice sector. Among the most recent shifts in strategy, U.S. efforts are increasingly resourced by a surge in civilian personnel at the provincial and district levels. To align with counterinsurgency (COIN) objectives, the U.S. government is emphasizing not only ministerial-level institution-building, but also projects to improve local-level access to justice, including projects to support informal dispute resolution mechanisms. Policy coordination among U.S. civilian and military entities involved in ROL efforts in Afghanistan also continues to change—including, most recently, the establishment of an Ambassador-led Coordinating Director for Rule of Law and Law Enforcement (CDROLLE) directorate at the U.S. Embassy, a Generalled Rule of Law Field Force (ROLFF) under the CJIATF-435, as well as an Interagency Planning and Implementation Team (IPIT) to coordinate all civilian and military ROL activities in Afghanistan. Future shifts in policy approaches may also occur as policymakers seek to address growing concerns regarding Afghan corruption.

Observers debate whether or to what extent the increased U.S. commitment to and resources for ROL efforts in Afghanistan will help the U.S. government reach its ultimate goal of developing a stable, capable, and legitimate Afghan government. Many would argue that the challenges in Afghanistan to ROL development and justice sector reform remain substantial and many factors undermine prospects for success. Chief among these are ongoing allegations of severe corruption at all levels of the Afghan government, lack of overall security and stability, limited Afghan government capacity, the existence of competing justice mechanisms, and the persistence of traditional attitudes that perpetuate the perception that well-connected Afghans can avoid facing prosecution and conviction. These debates will likely continue in the 112
th Congress, as Members remain concerned with all aspects of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, including authorizing and appropriating ROL-related programs and assistance, as well as conducting oversight on policy implementation and effectiveness.

Date of Report: November 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 48
Order Number: R41484
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.