Tuesday, October 18, 2016

US paying for non-existent Afghan troops

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is seeking information from the Pentagon on discrepancies found in the $68 billion in funding between 2002 and now.

SIGAR is particularly concerned about the apparent funding of "ghost soldiers" who do not actually exist. Higher ranking military personnel are claimed to have added names to lists of personnel who do not actually exist and then to have embezzled the salaries paid to them. The extent of the practice is not clear. The situation is complicated by the fact that many Afghan recruits just collect their first pay check and then disappear. A rough estimate is that there are tens of thousands of these "ghost soldiers'. In a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter back in August, inspector general John Sopko wrote: "Persistent reports indicating discrepancies between the assigned force strength of the ANDSF and the actual number of personnel serving raise questions regarding whether the U.S. government is taking adequate steps to prevent taxpayer funds from being spent on so-called ‘ghost’ soldiers."
The problem of "ghost soldiers" is not only that the US taxpayer is being bilked of large sums but that the Afghan forces are far fewer than thought. Checkpoints overrun by the Taliban may be overruun because there are actually less defenders at the checkpoint than official data shows.
There are not just problems of "ghost soldiers' but of Afghan soldiers going AWOL in the US. Eight Afghan trainees went missing in the US in September. Since 2015, 45 in total have disappeared and become illegal immigrants. One was caught by Canadian authorities trying to enter Canada.
SIGAR expressed doubts in a letter to the US Defense Department at what it called "significant gaps between the assigned force strength of the (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) and the actual number of personnel serving." SIGAR was particularly concerned about the situation in Helmand Province where Afghan forces have been struggling to fend off Taliban attacks. TOLO news service in Afghanistan quoted the incoming Helmand policy chief as claiming that up to half the roughtly 26,000 troops and police officers assigned to the province did not actually exist.
Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that while army, local and national police are said to number about 320,000 that there were likely less than half that number in reality. The Department of Defense(DOD) says several efforts are underway to stop the payment of "ghost soldiers". It claimed there had been person-to-person verification and biometric registration. The DOD said 90 percent of police and 70-80 percent of soldiers had been biometrically enrolled. Next year payment of salaries would go direclty to employees.


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