Attorney spends year serving Justice Department in Afghanistan

Assistant U.S. attorney shared his experience of investigating difficult cases

By Nick Hytrek
Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — Volunteer for a special task at work, and the odds increase that your boss is going to look your way the next time someone is needed for another big assignment.

How do you respond, especially if what’s being asked is difficult, maybe even dangerous?

When asked to spend a year representing the U.S. Justice Department in Afghanistan, Forde Fairchild said yes.

He’d already served in a similar capacity in Iraq six years earlier, so he felt that there wasn’t much of a choice to be made, the Sioux City Journal reported .

“When you get a call like that, it’s not something I felt I could say no to,” said Fairchild, a Terril, Iowa, native who’s been an assistant U.S. attorney in Sioux City since 2004.

Fairchild agreed to serve as Justice Attache for Afghanistan, the U.S. attorney general’s representative in the country, after being approached about the assignment in late 2015. He secretly completed the necessary training and left Sioux City the day after wrapping up a big case in September 2016. He arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, just a few days later for a yearlong detail that included coordinating American investigations for cases to be prosecuted in the United States and helping the Afghans become better investigators and prosecutors of complex cases.

With years of experience investigating difficult cases, Fairchild passed on his knowledge to Afghanistan’s attorney general and leaders in units that prosecute terrorism, narcotics and corruption cases. He was there to observe and assist, not to try their cases for them.

“The most important work in Afghanistan is being done by Afghans,” he said. “I would help them think through their next steps and put their cases together.”

Committed to ending those major criminal activities, Afghan justice officials face many difficulties. Insurgents target the criminal justice system, committing robberies, kidnappings and other crimes. Then they enter the city, tell the citizens that the government is incapable of protecting them and offer their own form of justice.

“They use their criminality as an example of the government’s failure,” Fairchild said.

Justice officials are often targets of violence, so it takes courage to bring charges against powerful warlords and other officials. During Fairchild’s time in Afghanistan, there were a number of bombings and rocket attacks on judicial, government and diplomatic buildings in Kabul.

“They face a dangerous and capable insurgency, and they have many elites who think they are above the law, but progress is being made,” Fairchild said. “While assisting them, you have equal parts of inspiration and disappointment. Taking the right steps against the right people, despite hardships and risks, is inspiring. The problems are huge. You realize how far they have to go, and that’s depressing.”

Working in a foreign system with so many challenges helped Fairchild appreciate a U.S. justice system that can function against rich, powerful people.

“It reinforces my understanding of what a valuable resource our justice system is and how it needs to be protected,” he said.

The Afghanistan detail wasn’t a career booster for Fairchild. He didn’t get a promotion or raise as a reward for the year he spent away from his family. The experience paid off in other ways.

“It changes a person’s perspective,” Fairchild said.

It was impressive to watch U.S. military personnel and diplomats do their jobs while separated from their families. Fairchild enjoyed meeting the Afghan people, who he said are generous, kind and polite. As an American citizen, it helped to see the world from central Asia and realize the strategic importance Afghanistan holds in the midst of neighbors such as China and Iran.

Fairchild witnessed Afghan­i­stan’s growing economic activity, the number of schools that have opened and an improving justice system. It gave him hope that the country is establishing the services and operations needed to someday stand on its own to withstand the insurgents’ attempts to weaken the government.

“The challenges are enormous, but I am optimistic,” he said.

With 27 months spent in war zones in the past seven years, Fairchild has certainly paid his dues, and he said it was an honor to serve his country in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

If asked to do so again?

That sense of duty might make it hard to say no.