The U.S.-NATO coalition has for months held back the funding stream for the salaries of up to 30,000 Afghan police officers on the frontline against the Taliban to prevent corrupt leaders from inflating the rosters with “ghost,” or nonexistent, personnel to receive more money, the New York Times (NYT) reports.
For years, American watchdog agencies like the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) have warned against the endemic corruption plaguing the Afghan government, shedding light on the issue of corrupt officials using “ghost” soldiers to fatten their pockets.
SIGAR determined in an audit released this week that Kabul’s efforts to develop and implement a national anti-corruption strategy are riddled with “weaknesses,” noting that the Afghan government still has reservations about fighting graft, which has cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.
The U.S. has devoted nearly $80 billion in American taxpayer funds to develop the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which include police and military units, since the war started in October 2001.
As many as 30,000 Afghan police officers fighting a bloody war against the Taliban have been denied their modest salaries for months, officials said on Wednesday, as the American-led coalition funding the force holds back their pay out of fear that much of it is going into the hands of corrupt leaders.
The move is seen as a punishment of sorts for the leadership of the force, which has lagged in accounting for its men and weeding out “ghost soldiers.”
Officials from the U.S.-NATO coalition hope the move will push Kabul into expediting the process of verifying the identities of ANDSF troops through biometric data.
The Times notes:
But bearing the brunt of the decision are the desperate police officers, many of them pinned down by the Taliban in faraway outposts inaccessible to the inventory teams. The officers come from the poorest communities around the country, accepting the risky job for $200 a month when there are few other prospects. Each day last year, an average of about 28 Afghan police officers and army members were killed.
In recent months, the U.S. military has limited the information it makes public on the state of the Afghan security forces, refusing to provide exact figures on the number of troops.
Citing the issue of non-existent troops on the payroll, SIGAR warned in 2016 that the United States and Afghanistan are clueless as to how many Afghan forces “actually exist,” are available for duty, and whether they are truly capable of defending their own country.
That year, the U.S. watchdog agency estimated that the number of “ghost soldiers” had likely reached the hundreds of thousands.
The issue has reportedly undermined the Afghan forces capability to fight the Taliban and other terrorist groups.