U.S. Attacks 'Reckless' Decision to Allow Troops to Be Investigated for Afghanistan War Crimes

The United States has attacked a decision by an international judiciary to allow U.S. troops and other parties to the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan to be investigated for war crimes.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lashed out Thursday against what he called a "truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution, masquerading as a legal body"—after the Hague, Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized on Thursday an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the armed forces of the U.S. and Afghanistan along with their mutual foe, the Taliban movement.

The decision, made by the ICC Appeals Chamber, overturned previous rulings blocking the case and welcomed by Washington.

Pompeo argued the reversal could harm an unprecedented peace agreement reached February 29 between the U.S. and the Taliban.

"It is all the more reckless for this ruling to come just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan—the best chance for peace in a generation," Pompeo said Thursday, noting that Kabul—which, unlike Washington, was a member of the ICC's founding Rome Statute—also wanted the case thrown out.

"The United States is not a party to the ICC, and we will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, so-called court," Pompeo argued. "This is yet another reminder of what happens when multilateral bodies lack oversight and responsible leadership, and become instead a vehicle for political vendettas. The ICC has today stumbled into a sorry affirmation of every denunciation made by its harshest critics over the past three decades."

us, special, operations, afghanistan, war, combat
U.S. special operations service members conduct combat operations in support of Operation Resolute Support in southeast Afghanistan, May 2019. More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed along with tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers, insurgents and civilians since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001. Sergeant Jaerett Engeseth/75th Ranger Regiment/U.S. Army

Efforts to launch the probe began in 2017 with ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who sought "to initiate an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity" committed by all sides of the conflict since May 2003—a year after the Rome Statute went into effect and when it came into force for Kabul. Only days after the statute initially came into effect in 2002, however, the U.S. withdrew its signature.

The U.S. first intervened directly in Afghanistan a year earlier in the wake of the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by Al-Qaeda, a Taliban ally formed amid the CIA-backed mujahideen war against Soviet intervention in the 1980s. The Taliban-led government quickly fell to U.S.-led forces in late 2001 but regrouped as a powerful insurgency that the U.S. and its allies, both local and international, have struggled to contain ever since.

President Donald Trump's administration embarked last year on a series of direct talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital of Doha. The process repeatedly stalled amid continued violence and Taliban refusals to engage with the Kabul government but the two sides reached a breakthrough last month by establishing a week-long ceasefire and signing a peace deal.

The agreement provides that Afghanistan will not host militant organizations like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) that seek to attack the U.S. and that the Taliban and Afghan government will hold a direct dialogue of their own. In exchange, the U.S. and other foreign forces will withdraw from the country.

Despite the agreement and direct talks between President Donald Trump and the Taliban, clashes continued in parts of Afghanistan. U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesperson Colonel Sonny Leggett confirmed Wednesday on Twitter that the U.S. "conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF checkpoint," referring to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

He said that the Taliban conducted 43 attacks on such positions on Tuesday alone despite the militant group calling on its members to adhere to the new truce. "To be clear- we are committed to peace, however we have the responsibility to defend our #ANDSF partners. #Afghans & US have complied w/ our agreements; however, Talibs appear intent on squandering this opp. and ignoring the will of the people for #peace. #Showyourcommitment," Leggett added.

Pompeo shared similar words during Thursday's press conference, calling the uptick in violence "unacceptable" yet anticipated. He reiterated: "We, the United States, has opened a door for you, the Afghan people, to come to the table to determine the future of your country. We'll stand with you; we're ready to support you. Do not squander this opportunity."