Audit: U.S. May Still Be Funding Afghan ‘Ghost’ Soldiers

In this photo taken on May 15, 2019 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take part in a military exercise at a base in Guzara district in Herat province. (Photo by HOSHANG HASHIMI / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP/Getty Images)

Corrupt leaders in Afghanistan may still be inflating the number of Afghan troops receiving U.S.-funded salaries with so-called “ghost,” or nonexistent personnel, an audit revealed this week.

In a report released Monday, the Pentagon’s inspector general found that a software system aimed at combating the use of “ghost” soldiers has failed.

“Ghost employees are fictional employees created to draw a salary that will then be claimed by one or more complicit individuals,” the IG explained.

To deal with corruption within the Afghan security forces’ payroll system, the U.S. government established the Afghan Personnel and Pay System (APPS) system.

The APPS is a software system that is expected to use biometrics to validate ANDSF enrollment.

The U.S.-NATO coalition “developed APPS to reduce the opportunity for corruption, such as fake personnel records, and improve the transparency, [and] accountability … of the Afghan payroll process,” the IG pointed out.

In the audit, however, the Pentagon IG revealed that the U.S.-NATO coalition paid $26.2 million to the APPS software development contractor for a system that fails to achieve its objective.

The IG found that the system:

[C]annot communicate directly with Afghan systems, relies on the same manually intensive human resource and payroll processes that the system was designed to streamline, and does not accomplish the stated objective of reducing the risk of inaccurate personnel records [“ghost” troops] or fraudulent payments through the use of automated controls.

In September 2017, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) warned that the system “will not completely eliminate the problem of ghost soldiers.”

Despite the changes to the payroll system, SIGAR continues to investigate the use of “ghost” personnel.

On Monday, the Pentagon IG also revealed that the U.S.-NATO coalition continued to fund the salaries of Afghan troops not enrolled in the electronic system.

The system was expected to allow the Afghan government “to automatically generate payroll calculations and forms required to process salary payments.”

Nevertheless, the audit noted that Kabul was “not using APPS to generate payroll data as of April 2019.”

U.S.-NATO coalition officials had said that “they would [only] fund salaries based on APPS-generated payroll data.”

The Afghan forces, however, have continued to get paid even though the endemically corrupt Afghan government is not using the biometric system.

APPS is also unable to validate the authenticity of biometric data, one of the system’s primary goals.

The Pentagon IG added:

Therefore, the DoD [the U.S. Department of Defense] does not have definitive assurance that APPS personnel records are biometrically linked and is still at risk of funding payroll for fraudulent personnel records.

Since the Afghan war began in 2001, the U.S. has devoted more than $80 billion to develop the Afghan security forces. However, the troops continue to struggle to defend their country.

The U.S. and the Taliban are expected to sign a peace deal to end the nearly 18-year-old Afghan war soon.

At the beginning of August, SIGAR revealed that the strength of the Afghan security forces stands at its “lowest level” in years, citing the “ghost” personnel problems as one of the reasons.

At one point, the U.S. government did not know how many Afghan security forces existed, SIGAR reported.


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