Afghanistan’s ‘Ghost Soldiers,’ Corruption Led to Collapse – Why Didn’t Team Biden See It Coming?

Gage Skidmore via Flickr

The extraordinarily swift collapse of the Afghan National Army (ANA) immediately after President’ Biden’s reckless retreat – mostly without a fight – provoked a firestorm of finger pointing and speculation. Many asked ‘what happened’ and ‘why didn’t Team Biden see it coming?’

Was it an intelligence failure, or a policy failure? Or both?

Now one source in the former Afghan government claims he knows why – ‘Ghost Soldiers.’

Afghanistan’s ex-finance minister Khalid Payenda told the BBC that he blames the government’s quick fall on corrupt officials who invented “ghost soldiers” and took payments from the Taliban.

He added that most of the 300,000 troops and police on the government’s books did not exist; large numbers of phantom personnel padded official lists so generals could pocket their wages.

The BBC reports that:

Mr Payenda, who resigned and left Afghanistan as the Islamist group advanced, said records showing that security forces greatly outnumbered the Taliban were incorrect.

“The way the accountability was done, you would ask the chief in that province how many people you have and based on that you could calculate salaries and ration expenses and they would always be inflated,” 

The former minister said the numbers may have been inflated by more than six times, and included “desertions [and] martyrs who were never accounted for because some of the commanders would keep their bank cards” and withdraw their salaries, he alleged.

The BBC notes that there have long been questions about Afghan troop numbers:

A 2016 report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar) claimed that “neither the United States nor its Afghan allies know how many Afghan soldiers and police actually exist, how many are in fact available for duty, or, by extension, the true nature of their operational capabilities”.

In a more recent report, Sigar expressed “serious concerns about the corrosive effects of corruption… and the questionable accuracy of data on the actual strength of the force”.

Mr Payenda said that troops who did exist were often not paid on time, while there were leaders of government-backed militias who were “double-dipping” – taking their government wage, and then also accepting payments from the Taliban to give up without a fight.

Payenda added: “The whole feeling was, we cannot change this. This is how the parliament works, this is how the governors work. Everybody would say the stream is murky from the very top, meaning the very top is involved in this.”

However, if SIGAR was aware of all this, why didn’t anyone do anything? And more importantly, why didn’t Team Biden know, or factor this into their calculations, before recklessly retreating? ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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Tim Colbath
Tim Colbath
24 days ago

We are being ruled by the criminally insane.

Jawad
Jawad
24 days ago

Right. As long as the numbers can be doctored on paper to look smashing, who cares what the REAL numbers are? You bet the enemy is observing.


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