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.
SIGAR found that corruption cut across all aspects of the reconstruction effort, jeopardizing progress made in security, rule of law, governance, and economic growth. The report concluded that failure to effectively address the problem meant U.S. reconstruction programs, at best, would continue to be subverted by systemic corruption and, at worst, would fail.
The report identified five main findings:
- Corruption undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by fueling grievances against the Afghan government and channeling material support to the insurgency.
- The United States contributed to the growth of corruption by injecting tens of billions of dollars into the Afghan economy, using flawed oversight and contracting practices, and partnering with malign powerbrokers.
- The U.S. government was slow to recognize the magnitude of the problem, the role of corrupt patronage networks, the ways in which corruption threatened core U.S. goals, and that certain U.S. policies and practices exacerbated the problem.
- Even when the United States acknowledged corruption as a strategic threat, security and political goals consistently trumped strong anticorruption actions.
- Where the United States sought to combat corruption, its efforts saw only limited success in the absence of sustained Afghan and U.S. political commitment.
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Full SIGAR Report below...