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Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA): What Is It, and How Has It Been Utilized?
R. Chuck Mason (au)
The U.S. has been party to multilateral and bilateral agreements addressing the status of U.S. armed forces while present in a foreign country. This report discusses these agreements, commonly referred to as Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs), which generally establish the framework under which U.S. military personnel operate in a foreign country, addressing how the domestic laws of the foreign jurisdiction shall be applied toward U.S. personnel while in that country. Formal requirements concerning form, content, length, or title of a SOFA do not exist. A SOFA may be written for a specific purpose or activity, or it may anticipate a longer-term relationship and provide for maximum flexibility and applicability. It is generally a stand-alone document concluded as an executive agreement. A SOFA may include many provisions, but the most common issue addressed is which country may exercise criminal jurisdiction over U.S. personnel. Other provisions that may be found in a SOFA include, but are not limited to, the wearing of uniforms, taxes and fees, carrying of weapons, use of radio frequencies, licenses, and customs regulations. SOFAs are often included, along with other types of military agreements, as part of a comprehensive security arrangement with a particular country. A SOFA itself does not constitute a security arrangement; rather, it establishes the rights and privileges of U.S. personnel present in a country in support of the larger security arrangement. SOFAs may be entered based on authority found in previous treaties and congressional actions or as sole executive agreements. The U.S. 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. Figures.
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