Conflict Law in Afghanistan
4 September 2018
An Australian legal officer is contributing to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan by ensuring that Coalition Forces comply with international law.
In Kabul, Chief of Operations and Humanitarian Law, Lieutenant Colonel Craig Barker, works as a principal legal officer within a multi-national legal team under the direction of the US Senior Judge Advocate.
For the Australian Army officer who joined up more than 35-years ago, the deployment to Afghanistan has given him the opportunity to provide real-time legal advice to military commanders on a range of legal issues, including the application of rules of engagement during operations.
Lieutenant Colonel Barker is involved in multiple aspects of the Resolute Support mission and primarily advises on operational law issues.
“I review Resolute Support concepts of operations and I’m a member of the Civilian Casualty Credibility Assessment Review Board, which investigates all allegations of civilian casualties to assess if they are attributable to Coalition Forces (also known as International Military Force),” he said.
“I also liaise with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan regarding civilian casualties, and I assist in drafting responses from Commander Resolute Support, General John W. Nicholson.”
Lieutenant Colonel Barker said finding balance was testing in Afghanistan.
“Currently, our standard working day is a long one and we normally operate at a high tempo across a broad range of legal issues,” he said.
“The office is broken up into specialist areas ranging from contract and fiscal law through to international agreements, intelligence law and the new area of strategy, policy and reconciliation.”
As an Australian legal professional, Lieutenant Colonel Barker said it was very rewarding to serve alongside coalition nations and iron out the nuances and interpretation of international law, particularly with the US legal advisors.
“Within the headquarters, I work alongside other NATO embeds, including one from Denmark and one from the Czech Republic,” he said.
“The Senior Judge Advocate regularly says she values the different approach we bring, or the ‘other than American approach’ to the interpretation of international law.”
Lieutenant Colonel Barker is deployed on Operation Highroad, which is Australia’s commitment to the Resolute Support mission.
More than 16,000 personnel from 41 NATO member states and partner countries are deployed in support of Resolute Support.
The Resolute Support mission is the NATO-led non-combat, train, advise and assist mission in support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, in particular the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and relevant Afghan Institutions, to develop GIRoA’s capacity to defend Afghanistan and protect its citizens in a sustainable manner.