– Executive Summary –


The threat to the United States (U.S.) homeland and U.S. interests abroad posed by international terrorism has changed dramatically since the United States started its global war on terror (GWOT) in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. While U.S. and international efforts in support of the GWOT were successful in targeting core Al Qaeda (AQ) members, and Al Qaeda senior leadership (AQSL), mainly in Afghanistan and western Pakistan, AQ fighters have since moved to nearly every part of the world and AQ-inspired Jihadists have taken root throughout the Middle East and Africa. Several of the most prominent Al Qaeda Affiliates and Adherent (AQAA) groups are now operating within sovereign countries in which the type of direct military action applied effectively in Afghanistan and Pakistan is simply not politically, diplomatically, or logistically possible.

Security operations and effective internal policing by local law enforcement (LE) and justice agencies to shrink or eliminate the ungoverned spaces in partner countries is needed to address the new generation of terrorist threats effectively, which are now spread around the globe and often intermingled with the civilian populations that these groups need to exist.


This mission of building capable international LE partners is not a new one for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI was asked to take increasingly larger and more prominent roles in helping train both Iraqi and Afghan LE agencies. In Kabul, the FBI was asked to work with Afghan partners to design, build and operate an entirely new LE agency, the major crimes task force-afghanistan (MCTF-A), and to use this fledgling task force to counter the political and financial support being funneled to the rising Afghan insurgency through high-level corruption. This program was, by far, the most ambiguous capacity-building program the FBI ever took on and it went beyond the usual template of simply making existing LE agencies more effective to creating what many U.S. officials dubbed “the Afghan FBI.”

However, the results of the FBI’s efforts in Afghanistan and experiences with MCTF-A led to a political row at the highest levels of U.S. and Afghan governments. Currently, the MCTF-A essentially operates in name only, with limited investigative capacity and without any direct FBI assistance or involvement. [1] Given the enormous resources devoted to this large-scale undertaking, and the apparent limited prospects for long-term success, [2]it is unlikely the FBI would assess this program as fully successful or as fulfilling its intended goals. Simply saying the FBI should never take on large-scale capacity building programs, like the MCTF-A, or partner with foreign LE agencies to attempt to tackle tough criminal and terrorism-related matter, would be short-sided and counterproductive to the strategic interests of the United States in many countries in which terrorist groups are now trying to establish a safe haven. Additionally, the current U.S. national counterterrorism (CT) strategy places great emphasis on development of competent CT partnerships with countries throughout the Middle East and Africa.


Developing a criteria for assessing the viability of success for potential LE and rule of law (ROL) capacity-building programs is essential for both avoiding the missteps of the FBI’s experience with the MCTF-A but still working to build capable CT partners around the world. This thesis, through the case study of the MCTF-A and the post-conflict environment in which it operated, develops a method and criteria for the FBI and its U.S. counterterrorism partners to evaluate potential host nation LE and justice sectors. This thesis also examines the critical elements to consider for developing a politically, socially, and legally sustainable framework for building LE and justice sector capacity, and creating a comprehensive ends-based program to improve the overarching ROL framework of host nations, as well as lays out the necessary partners within the FBI and other U.S. government departments to create a successful ROL program.


Stopping or even slowing down the spread of terrorist groups throughout the developing world is a daunting and challenging task. However, the FBI must be prepared to accomplish this task because neither the FBI nor any U.S. government agency has the resources or ability to fight international terrorism unilaterally. Furthermore, building a more robust ROL framework within partner nations will have positive and broad societal impacts in these countries. Well-designed and implemented capacity-building programs will not only help the FBI to counter imminent threats but will also help the United States address the underlying political, social, and cultural issues and deficiencies that allow terror groups to grow. Such programs are a crucial component of the long-term battle to defeat terrorism.

[1] Michael Huffman, “How the U.S. Lost the Corruption Battle in Afghanistan,” May 28, 2012, www.USpolicyinaBigWorld.com

[2] Ibid.

2 thoughts on “The Major Crimes Task Force-Afghanistan: A Case Study and Examination of Implications for Future FBI Capacity Building Programs”

  1. Hassan Paiwand

    I am working on a paper regarding the MCTF-A but I can’t find information on it. Those information for instance are, the ToR for the MCTF-A, the time of establishment of the task force, the current situation of it?

    I will appreciate your cooperation in advance

    1. HI Hassan. Are you still seeking this information? I have the information on the initial establishment of the Afghan Major Crimes Task Force. Feel free to contact me at col60123@gmail.com.



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