The Defense Department has spent more than $470 million to maintain the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and is on the hook to spend millions more, even though the force itself is hindered by corruption and poor management, according to a top federal watchdog.
A new report from the office of John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), says the Pentagon will spend an additional $121 million through 2016 supporting an effort that lacks oversight, logistical support and controls for the payment of salaries.
The audit is the latest piece of bad news about mismanaged funds in the 14-year conflict in Afghanistan, which has cost the U.S. about $1 trillion and counting.
The ALP is separate from the Afghan National Police and National Army and is supposed to boost local security by training rural Afghans how to defend their communities against insurgents and other armed groups. The force has around 28,000 members spread across 150 districts in the country.
Sopko’s team found a force plagued with problems, many caused by the remote setting of its work.
For instance, when it comes to reporting attendance, member can check in using radios and cellphones or deliver reports by hand. Once submitted, the reports go through a byzantine certification process in which the provincial chief of police is in charge of certifying time sheet and controlling salary payments, each of which can be altered at any time. The arrangement “creates an opportunity for fraud and corruption,” according to the audit.
Meanwhile, DOD itself hasn’t conducted any audits of the salary disbursements to make sure the numbers add up, it notes.
The rural focus of the ALP also hampers its supply chain
“The ALP is the first line of defense for many villages across Afghanistan, but supplies ordered for the ALP are often diverted, delayed, of inferior quality, or heavily pilfered,” the report states. “Furthermore, coalition and ALP personnel SIGAR interviewed stated that unreliable logistics and lack of supplies also increase the likelihood of attrition.”
Personnel are also “inappropriately” used as bodyguards for Afghan government officials, no doubt due to the unstable security situation in the country that recently led President Obama to revise his plans for a drawdown in U.S. troops.
The ALP is supposed to be incorporated into other Afghan security forces eventually, but SIGAR found no concrete plans for doing so any time soon.
Sopko makes a number of recommendations to fix the ALP program, including the creation of an electronic payment system; setting up protocols so members get the supplies they need and aren’t used as bodyguards; and conducting financial audits of the entire ALP system.