LAGHMAN, Afghanistan — Coalition forces here have been hit hard in the past year. Bombings and gun battles have killed more than a dozen U.S. troops and wounded around 100 from Task Force Thunderbird, built around the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade.
But arguably the biggest battle took place not in the hills of this rugged province east of Kabul, but in a courtroom in the provincial capital of Mehtar Lam. The dramatic events leading up to the January trial — and those that followed — are a window into a vitally important but largely unreported facet of the decade-long Afghanistan War.
Behind the scenes across the embattled country, a special breed of U.S. soldier is working closely with a new style of Afghan police to enforce law and order in Afghanistan’s lawless countryside. They’re trying to defeat the insurgency by treating it like a criminal problem rather than a military one. And they’re planned to be at it even after the International Security Assistance Force’s conventional troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
In that sense, the trial was a possible preview of the Afghanistan War, post-2014. If the Laghman case is any indication, the conflict will be increasingly characterized by risky police raids, delicate legal action and small numbers of highly trained U.S. troops quietly applying pressure at key moments to ensure the rule of law triumphs over chaos.