Some officials in Afghanistan's police and military establishment are allegedly over-counting their forces in an effort to profit from international support for their war on the Taliban.
"There are continuing reports of significant gaps between the assigned force strength of the ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] and the actual number of personnel serving," according to a letter to the Department of Defense (DoD) from John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
"According to my information," Agha Noor Kintoz, the police chief of Helmand province, told Tolo News, "40 to 50 percent of the force did not exist physically when we asked for help during operations. Salaries of ghost soldiers had been received during the past eight months and the money has gone to personal accounts."
Kintoz's predecessor, Abdul Rahman Sarjang, was placed under investigation in June by the Afghan Ministry of Interior on charges of exploiting his official power, establishing "ghost police," and underestimating his responsibilities in the war on the Taliban.
"Huge numbers of ghost police are reported in Helmand province," Afghan senator Akhundzada Alokozai said. "Their equipment and weaponries were distributed to mafia and local lawbreakers while our people in Helmand and military forces are burning in war flames."
ANDSF loses thousands of personnel each month to desertion and heavy casualties, Reuters reports. This shortage undermines efforts against the Taliban, particularly in hotly contested areas like Helmand.
Afghan officials might be failing to report casualties and desertions to mask their own failures, according to the Guardian.
In Sopko's letter, he lists some safeguards that the DoD has implemented to ensure that U.S. tax dollars are well spent fighting terrorism. These include financial controls, improvements to ANDSF's personnel management systems, and "biometric procedures to better track soldiers and police."
But Sopko says, "These systems will only be effective if accurate data is captured and maintained on ANDSF attendance and attrition. Given the persistent reports of absentee or non-existent personnel, my office is concerned about whether adequate steps have been taken to address this issue."
Reuters reports that the U.S. has furnished Afghan forces with more than $68 billion since 2002. The U.S. and allies in NATO recently pledged to send around $5 billion per year to Afghanistan's army and police forces through at least 2020.