According to the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, who recently sat down for an interview with Sharyl Attkinson of Full Measure, the ongoing problem may have been worse than anyone realized, but was being addressed by President Donald Trump’s Pentagon.
“We’ve been raising this concern about ghosts going back a number of years,” stated Sopko. “Actually I want to say we heard about it from (Afghan President) Ashraf Ghani years ago, before he became president, he warned me about ‘ghosts,’ so we started looking three years ago.”
What we’re talking about are policemen, Afghan policemen, Afghan military, Afghan civil servants who don’t exist or they have multiple identity cards and we’re paying their salaries,” he explained. “By ‘we’ I mean the United States and the international community. And we started finding out that we had no capacity to measure the number of soldiers, teachers, doctors, military people who we are paying their salaries.”
Fox News reported in October that the fraud could have amounted to more than $300 million annually.
Asked if this indicated fraud had been taking place, Sopko replied: “Major fraud. And what’s happening is the commanders or generals or other higher officials are actually pocketing the salaries of the ghosts.”
“And I remember President Ghani again, at that time he wasn’t president, saying, ‘John, you the United States government are paying the salary of an Afghan who’s a teacher, he’s a civil servant, he’s a doctor, he is a policeman, and he’s a soldier. And it’s the same Afghan. And he doesn’t exist,’” Sopko explained.
“It’s not just the salaries,” he added. “But we’re funding schools based upon the number of students, so if you invent or inflate the number of students, you’re going to be paying more money. On the soldiers and the police, we’re paying for extra boots, for food, for everything else, logistics for numbers that don’t exist.”
Sopko had alerted the Pentagon on numerous occasions to what he had discovered in 2016, but little was done to address the issue by the administration of President Barack Obama, though Fox News reported that the Pentagon had stated at the time that they would soon implement certain measures to try and combat the rampant fraud bilking U.S. taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Guided by the new no-nonsense leadership of the Defense Department under Trump, it would appear that those measures, among many others, were being implemented in Afghanistan with measurable results.
According to the Independent Journal Review, Attkinsson noted that the Pentagon had implemented a biometric system that checked such things as fingerprints, photographs and even blood type in an effort to obtain “proof of life” of Afghan service members in order to weed out the non-existent “ghosts” that have cost taxpayers so much.
In fact, the Pentagon claimed that it had already enrolled in the program “up to 95 percent of the Afghan police and 70-80 percent of soldiers” in the Afghan National Army.
While it is highly doubtful that any of the taxpayer dollars lost through this fraud will ever be recovered, at least steps have been taken to ensure more dollars aren’t similarly wasted in the seemingly never-ending bid to reconstruct Afghanistan.