Chapter 2: The Office of the Judge Advocate General and Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan

Canada’s military engagement in Afghanistan began in late 2001, after the September 11 attacks on the United States and formally concluded in March 2014. From the very beginning, legal considerations shaped the nature and the extent of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. The timely resolution of many complex legal issues assisted in the effective conduct of the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) extensive and varied military operations. Throughout the campaign, legal officers led by the Judge Advocate General (JAG) addressed varied and complex legal issues involving a challenging theatre of operations.

The Office of the JAG’s contribution to the CAF mission in Afghanistan was not limited only to those who deployed. For instance, the JAG and legal officers working in the Operational Law Division provided strategic level support to the Government of Canada, including the Minister of National Defence and senior leadership within the Department of National Defence and the CAF. Other legal officers provided advice on military justice and administrative law issues that impacted the mission. Finally, those legal officers working on bases across the country supported rear parties and related mission activities.

An Emerging and Evolving Mission

September 11, 2001

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 1368 that supported efforts to root out terrorism in Afghanistan.4 Shortly thereafter, Canada announced that it would contribute air, land and sea forces to the international force being formed to conduct a campaign against terrorism.5 The Canadian contribution to the campaign in southern Afghanistan was Operation APOLLO that involved combat operations within a multi-national coalition. From the beginning, these operations had integrated legal support from deployed military lawyers from the Office of the JAG.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)

On December 20, 2001, the UN Security Council authorized ISAF with a mandate to assist the Afghan Transitional Authority (ATA) in providing for security in the Kabul region and its surrounding areas.6

The objective of Operation ATHENA, Canada’s participation in ISAF, was initially to contribute troops to the UN authorized mission in Kabul. From 2003 to 2005, the CAF’s main effort in Afghanistan under ISAF was concentrated in Kabul. During this period, a Canadian Battle Group was based in Camp Julien and was supported by a legal officer for each of the rotations of this contribution.

In late 2005, the CAF’s main effort transitioned from security operations in Kabul to full spectrum combat operations in Kandahar province. This was accompanied by a significant increase in the threat faced by CAF personnel. The Office of the JAG’s operational tempo also increased with deployed legal officers providing support on numerous issues including targeting, detention, the rule of law and Afghan capacity building.

Following the cessation of combat operations in 2011, CAF efforts transitioned to Operation ATTENTION, a Kabul-centered training and capacity building mission. Legal officers continued to support Afghan National Army (ANA) legal development while advising mission commanders in a challenging security environment until termination of the mission in March 2014. The final legal officer from the Office of the JAG to serve in Afghanistan left the country on 15 March 2014.

Legal Support in the Theatre of Operations and Beyond

Camp Mirage

Between 2001 and 2010 the CAF operated a staging base, Camp Mirage, for the Afghan mission within a Middle East partner state. Legal officers, both in Canada and in theatre, supported the establishment of Camp Mirage and its operations in furtherance of the Afghan mission.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams

International efforts in Afghanistan included the establishment of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) to provide assistance to the Afghan government in increasing its ability to govern, rebuild the nation and provide services to its citizens. Canada’s contribution of a PRT in Kandahar province was based in Kandahar City. The PRT legal officer’s responsibilities were numerous and diverse, including working with officials from Afghan and international authorities to advance these objectives and evaluating claims for ex gratia payments made by Afghan citizens.


Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan included efforts to strengthen the rule of law and human rights. In this regard, legal officers provided valuable mentorship to a wide variety of Afghan officials - from senior levels of the Afghan government to tactical level staff judge advocates of the ANA.

For example, legal officers who served with Canada’s Strategic Advisory Team – Afghanistan (SAT-A), provided valuable guidance to senior officials in Afghan government ministries in order to assist in strengthening the government of Afghanistan.

In contrast, other legal officers served in various mentorship roles. Those serving in Kabul with the US-led Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A) mentored senior legal advisors from the Ministry of Defence and ANA, as well as judges from the Court of Military Appeals. Legal officers serving in Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLT) provided guidance in Kandahar province at the brigade, battalion and company levels. These legal officers travelled widely alongside their ANA counterparts, guiding them through military law issues. Other legal officers worked as advisors and mentors to the ANA Training and Education Command in support of the ANA Legal School in Kabul.

Service at Home

Whether at National Defence Headquarters or AJAG offices on bases in every part of Canada, the steady stream of deployments called upon the remaining legal officers and civilian staff to sustain the provision of legal advice to the CAF and DND. The members of the Office of the JAG responded to this demanding environment with poise and professionalism.

For instance, new and revised CAF programs involving financial and medical benefits, assistance to and recognition of, CAF members were among the myriad of administrative law issues flowing from the mission that challenged the legal officers serving in the Administrative Law Division.

Within the military justice system, legal officers serving in the Canadian Military Prosecution Service, Defence Counsel Services and the Military Justice Division faced challenging legal issues related to proceedings arising from the Afghan mission. This was exemplified in July 2010 during the General Court Martial of Captain Semrau in theatre. The demonstration of the expeditionary character of military justice reaffirmed its indispensable role as a part of the larger Canadian justice system.


The Canadian involvement in Afghanistan was transformational for the CAF and the Office of the JAG. During the course of almost thirteen years of CAF involvement in Afghanistan, a generation of legal officers provided legal advice and support to commanders at all levels. Frequently, advice was provided under very stressful circumstances where commanders were seized with matters of life and death. In providing legal support to the mission, the Office of the JAG played a significant role in the defence of Canada and its allies, in the fulfillment of the mandate given to the CAF by the Government of Canada, and contributed to building respect for the rule of law.

The mission was challenging, not only for those legal officers who deployed, but also for those who stayed behind and for the families who supported them. The Office of the JAG and its members can take pride in their contribution to the campaign in Afghanistan. They provided the CAF with what it needed: legal officers who punched above their weight by delivering timely, operationally focused and solution oriented, independent legal advice.


4 UNSCR 1368 (2001).

5 On October 7, 2001, Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien announced that Canada would contribute air, land and sea forces to the international force being formed to conduct a campaign against terrorism.

6 UNSCR 1386 (2001).

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