Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA): What Is It, and How Has It Been Utilized? [March 15, 2012] [open pdf - 363KB]
"The deadly attacks on Afghan civilians allegedly by a U.S. servicemember have raised questions regarding the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in place between the United States and Afghanistan that would govern whether Afghan law would apply in this circumstance. SOFAs are multilateral or bilateral agreements that generally establish the framework under which U.S. military personnel operate in a foreign country and how domestic laws of the foreign jurisdiction apply toward U.S. personnel in that country. […] The United States is currently party to more than 100 agreements that may be considered SOFAs. A list of current agreements included at the end of this report is categorized in tables according to the underlying source of authority, if any, for each of the SOFAs. In the case of Afghanistan, the SOFA, in force since 2003, provides that U.S. Department of Defense military and civilian personnel are to be accorded status equivalent to that of U.S. Embassy administrative and technical staff under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. Accordingly, U.S. personnel are immune from criminal prosecution by Afghan authorities and are immune from civil and administrative jurisdiction except with respect to acts performed outside the course of their duties. The Government of Afghanistan has further explicitly authorized the U.S. government to exercise criminal jurisdiction over U.S. personnel. Thus, under the existing SOFA, the United States would have jurisdiction over the prosecution of the servicemember who allegedly attacked the Afghan civilians."
CRS Report for Congress, RL34531