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‘Ghost Soldiers’: The Pentagon Lost $232 Million Trying To Pay Afghan Forces

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The Department of Defense (DOD) paid $232 million to unauthorized or nonexistent accounts between 2019 and 2021 from funds intended to provide salaries for Afghan soldiers, a government watchdog report found.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the group tasked with investigating U.S. relief efforts in Afghanistan since 2002, described the payments as “questionable,” according to the report originally obtained by Politico Tuesday. Payments to the government of Afghanistan for salaries went to “suspicious units and non-existent object codes” or were never delivered to bank accounts belonging to Afghan security personnel.

DOD skirted the approved salary calculation system, the Afghan Personnel and Pay System (APPS), according to the report.

“This occurred because DOD did not use APPS to manage all aspects of the Ministry of Defense payroll process, did not implement internal controls, and did not use all of the authorities granted to it to oversee the distribution of salary funds,” SIGAR stated.

Four million dollars were labeled as “education pay,” a category without an official code in the chart of accounts, SIGAR noted. The investigation also found over 7,000 duplicate identification numbers and 1,009 invalid IDs in APPS records, “ghost soldiers” that may have allowed corrupt individuals to receive multiple salaries.

The DOD authorized approximately $3 billion of the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund to spend on Afghan Ministry of Defense salaries during the time period covered by the report.

In a comment dated July 14, DOD attributed the unauthorized payments to “limitations in Afghanistan’s existing information technology infrastructure, the Afghan government’s lack of expertise in managing modern personnel systems” and the “significant risk of corruption,” as well as “disruptions” that might be expected in a complicated wartime scenario.

“The real key to significantly mitigating this risk was to bypass the Afghan government and transfer funds directly into soldiers’ individual bank accounts,” the DOD said.

DOD claimed it was aware of APPS’ potential for exploitation and was continually working to streamline the process before the Afghan government fell in August 2021 after the chaotic withdrawal of American troops.

As the Taliban breached Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, U.S. troops and supporting personnel rushed to evacuate, along with thousands of Afghan civilians. More than a dozen U.S. service members died, and many other Americans remained trapped in the country.

DOD played down its responsibility for the state of the Afghan security forces following U.S. withdrawal. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin refused to testify before Congress in September 2021 for his involvement in the withdrawal.

SIGAR has issued multiple reports exposing deficiencies in U.S. efforts to train and prepare the Afghan military to defend the sitting government from Taliban insurgents. The DOD lost billions of dollars to waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan since 2002.

DOD also reportedly knew the Afghan Air Force would collapse rapidly despite DOD and Biden administration claims to the contrary, according to a January SIGAR report.

A Pentagon spokesperson referred the Daily Caller News Foundation to the DOD’s response in the SIGAR report.

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