WASHINGTON, DC—The U.S. and Afghan governments lack accurate data on the Afghan security forces’s manpower, capability, and payroll, making it difficult to assess Afghanistan’s ability to fight the Taliban and prevent other terrorist groups from using the country to stage new attacks, according to a specially-appointed congressional watchdog agency.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security on Wednesday on how inaccurate and unreliable data on Afghan security personnel may place America’s security and billions of U.S. taxpayer funds at risk.
A lack of accurate personnel data may prevent the United States and coalition partners from making informed decisions “on the pace of their withdrawal of military personnel and capabilities while ensuring the ANSF is able to achieve its security objectives,” he noted.
Since 2002, Congress has appropriated nearly $61 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds to equip, train, and sustain the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF).
Of those funds, nearly $4 billion have been allocated to fund the salaries of the ANSF (Afghan security forces), which consists of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP).
“If you’re in the military you have a roll call every morning,” noted Sopko. “Well, we don’t have basic roll call. We don’t know who shows up at that roll call and the same applies to the police.”
The U.S. government may be paying for the salaries of “hollow” Afghan brigades that do not really exist, he warned.
Sopko told lawmakers, “If we don’t know who is showing up, we don’t know what their qualifications are… Are they trained medics? Are they literate? Are they weapons specialists?”
After nearly 14 years of funding the development of the ANSF and at least 2,215 lost U.S. lives, the U.S. government and its Afghan counterpart are unable to provide accurate and reliable ANSF personnel, payroll, and manpower data—including names, ranks, identification information, and duty locations to the trained Afghan forces.
SIGAR attributed the lack of accurate and reliable personnel information on the Obama administration transferring oversight responsibility to the Afghan government.
“Because of our drawdown, U.S. decision makers and implementing agencies have become more reliant on obtaining accurate and reliable data on the reconstruction effort produced by the Afghan government,” Mr. Sopko told lawmakers. “This includes basic information on the number and capacity of Afghan soldiers and police.”
“Unfortunately, as my written testimony highlights, neither the United States nor our Afghan allies truly know how many Afghan soldiers and police are available for duty, or, by extension, the true nature of their operational capability,” he continued. “Such basic information is especially critical now as we enter the 2015 fighting season with the Afghans being fully responsible for their own security.”
In his written testimony, the inspector general noted that inaccurate data on the number of Afghan security forces may affect the Afghan security forces at the strategic level.
“This data is used as a basis for determining other requirements for the ANA and ANP, such as recruiting; facilities, training, and equipment needed; salaries; and medical care,” he said.
“Finally, until the Afghan government is able to fully fund and sustain its own security force, ANSF personnel data, combined with payroll data and other information, help the United States and coalition nations determine the overall amount of funding required to support the ANSF and make decisions on how much funding they will provide,” added Sopko.
Although Afghanistan remains incapable of managing a budget, the country will continue to receive U.S. funding for “years to come” after the withdrawal of American personnel.
The Afghan government remains the largest recipient of American foreign aid.
An estimated $110 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds has been appropriated for the largest reconstruction effort in American history, the bulk ($61 billion) of which has been spent on developing the Afghan security forces.
Yet, when asked how many Afghan army troops and police officers have been trained under that effort, the inspector general said the U.S. government does not know.
“The importance of accurate and reliable personnel data to the United States and Afghan governments cannot be overstated,” declared Sopko.
According to Sopko, the Afghan government never collected the employee cards of Afghan security personnel who left their job.
That is a “serious” concern from a security perspective, he said, but also because you have Afghans walking around with Afghan security employee cards that they can use to collect salary payments.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83.