The U.S. Could Be Paying $2.3 Billion a Year for Afghan Ghost Soldiers
Policy + Politics

The U.S. Could Be Paying $2.3 Billion a Year for Afghan Ghost Soldiers

REUTERS/Baz Ratner

As part of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort started in 2002, the United States has doled out at least $2.3 billion to pay the salaries of the Afghan National Army and help build the country’s security forces. 

Yet more than a decade later, federal auditors say the Defense Department  has no idea how many troops they’re supporting or how capable and well-trained they are-- especially ahead of the 2015 fighting season. 

Related: 7 Threats to U.S. Rebuilding Efforts in Afghanistan 

A new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that little oversight of the ANA payroll and poor recordkeeping  made it nearly impossible to know if that money has gone into the right hands. 

The auditors said that the U.S. relies on attendance data from the Afghan National Army to determine troop salaries. However, the data is “minimally controlled, inconsistently collected and lacking direct oversight.”

On top of that, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) doesn’t have an electronic payroll data system and instead calculates troops’ salaries by hand, “leaving limited assurances that personnel receive accurate salaries,” according to the report. 

SIGAR slammed the Defense Department for having no direct oversight over the data, saying the Pentagon took did little to verify the personnel figures in the payroll system. 

This problem became more acute, the auditors suggested, as the U.S. and coalition forces began exiting Afghanistan, leaving the Afghan government solely in charge of the ANA data collection process. 

Related: Pentagon Doesn’t Know What Happened to $1.3 Billion in Afghanistan 

“With the U.S. government and the international community planning to continue funding ANA salaries for several more years, it is crucial that Defense Department and the MOD improve their ability to verify the accuracy of ANA personnel numbers and salary disbursements,” the report said. 

SIGAR recommended that the Pentagon and Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry implement new controls to determine daily troop attendance. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is supposed to have an electronic payroll system up and running by 2017. 

DOD and Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry agreed with the auditors’ recommendations. 

SIGAR’s latest report was released before IG John Sopko testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. During the hearing, Sopko, whose agency has been known to issue scathing reports identifying government waste in Afghanistan, announced that the State Department had notified SIGAR that it must reduce its staff in Kabul by 40 percent next year. 

Sopko told lawmakers that cutting the auditors’ funding could be detrimental to the U.S.’s $1 trillion reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. He added that the announcement from the State Department came as somewhat of a shock to his office, which, until Monday, did not know that it had no say in the matter. 

"SIGAR was told that this 40 percent cut is nonnegotiable. This arbitrary number was developed without SIGAR's input, and embassy officials did not provide any explanation for how they determined these cuts," Sopko said. 

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