Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Perry Chiaramonte / Fox News – 2017-01-12 02:16:20
US Paying Salaries for Tens of Thousands of Non-Existent Afghans
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(January 11, 2017) — Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko is once again warning about the long-standing problems of corruption in Afghanistan, and the amount of US “reconstruction aid” disappearing down black holes over the course of the years. As always, the discussion came around to “ghost soldiers.”
Ghost soldiers are a phenomenon in which Afghan military commanders fill their ranks with fictional names and just keep the salaries, which since the salaries are paid pretty much exclusively by NATO and overwhelmingly by the US, has been a known tactic that the Afghan government has done nothing to prevent.
Sopko warned that the “ghost soldier” problem has expanded to include fictional police, teachers, and other government officials, and that all told the US taxpayers are paying the salaries of “tens of thousands” of Afghans who don’t actually exist, and will likely be doing so for years, potentially decades to come. Though exact figures are impossible to know, SIGAR said some $300 million in salaries are paid to “unverified” employees.
Individual Afghan government employee salaries are pretty small, particularly for military recruits, which has been a big reason the nation has struggled to fill the ranks with actual people. That commanders can pocket the difference just adds to the incentive to make up names and “pay” them.
This is a big reason why the Afghan military has struggled so mightily in fights with the Taliban as well, as their statistics on how many troops they have defending any given checkpoint or important city are wildly inaccurate, and they can find that the Taliban forces they thought they handily outnumbered are actually in a position to seize territory.
Afghanistan’s ‘Ghost Soldiers’ Take Scary Toll on US Taxpayers, Says Watchdog
Perry Chiaramonte / Fox News
(January 12, 2017) — The US government is paying the salaries of “tens of thousands” of non-existent Afghan soldiers, police, teachers and civil servants, a top Pentagon official said Wednesday in reporting on the scale and variety of misspent US money.
John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), said the salaries of “ghost soldiers” is just one of many ways Americans’ money is wasted in Afghanistan â€“ all for rather modest gains.
His comments summarize a SIGAR report that aims to help inform the new Congress and administration of the most pressing reconstruction challenges in 2017 and beyond. Sopko’s message was one American leaders have heard before.
“Including US war funding unrelated to reconstruction, US appropriations for Afghanistan now totals more than three quarters of a trillion dollars — not including the $43.7 billion requested for fiscal year 2017,” he said in a speech before the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
“To date, more than $115 billion of US taxpayer money has been spent, sometimes wisely â€“ too often not. Another $7.5 billion has been appropriated but not yet spent, and international donors have pledged to provide financial support to Afghanistan and its security forces through 2020.”
Despite the huge amounts spent in Afghanistan, conditions are deteriorating.
“As of Aug. 28, 2016, only 63.4 percent of the country’s districts were under Afghan government’s control or influence, a reduction from the 72 percent as of Nov. 27, 2015, Sopko said.
Afghan forces “are generally capable and effective at protecting major population centers, preventing the Taliban from maintaining prolonged control of specific areas and at responding to Taliban attacks.” But the Afghan military, “a reportedly 320,000-strong force is basically playing ‘whack-a-mole’ following the Taliban around Afghanistan.”
In addition to the military situation, American efforts to curb opium production are failing.
“Although the United States has committed more than $8 billion to counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan, the opium trade has grown significantly since the fall of the Taliban. [The US] estimates that as much as 60 percent of the Taliban’s funding comes from poppy production and cultivation.”
The scale of money spent on Afghanistan since reconstruction efforts began in 2002 mirrors the scale of casualties among US personnel in Afghanistan. Sopko said “2,247 US military personnel have died in support of operations there, while more than 20,000 others were wounded in action.”
After 15 years, Afghanistan’s government is still in no position to support itself — and corruption in endemic, he said. “The percentage of Afghans who believe corruption is a problem of daily life, now 90 percent, has steadily increased over time.
In 2016 Afghans paid more in bribes than the government is expected to have generated in revenue from taxes, customs, tariffs and other sources of income.”
There is evidence that the Taliban has instructed its field commanders to simply purchase US-supplied weapons, fuel and ammunition from Afghan soldiers because to do so is both easier and less expensive, Sopko said.
Some of the blame for the wasted military spending, growing drug problem and widespread corruption can be laid on Washington’s doorstep. “The US contributed mightily to the problem by dumping too much money, too fast, into too small an economy, with too little oversight,” he said.
There have been some improvements because of American efforts to ensure that money is properly spent.
“I was encouraged to hear that, as of this month, Afghan security forces are being paid based on a DOD-developed verification system, known as AHRIMS [Afghan Human Resources Information Management System] that relies upon ID cards embedded with biometric information being registered daily to measure attendance,” he said.
Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych
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