Afghanistan’s former finance minister is blaming hundreds of thousands of “ghost soldiers” for letting Kabul fall into Taliban hands as America withdrew all military personnel from the country.
Khalid Payenda, who stepped down from his post shortly after the Taliban takeover in August, told the BBC that nearly 300,000 soldiers and police were invented by corrupt officials to fill government books so generals could pocket their wages and accept payment from the Taliban.
The “ghost soldiers,” he said, existed only on paper.
As the US withdrew its military from Afghanistan after 20 years, Payenda explained that records claiming government security numbers that could overwhelm 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,” he told BBC’s Ed Butler.
Payenda revealed that some commanders would keep bank cards of individuals who were never accounted for to extract their salaries. He suggested the numbers may have been inflated by more than six times.
The ex-finance minister first made the “ghost” claim back in September, telling Afghanistan Analysts Network that military numbers were “all a lie.” He concluded that, at best, Afghanistan was equipped with 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers.
“The rest were all ghosts,” he said. “In places where there should have been 1,000 [soldiers], there were 35. They colluded with the contractors on the payments for food and other stuff and divided the extra money [among themselves],” he said.
“It ran all the way to the top. Unfortunately, they did not see the urgency.”
The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction [SIGAR] said in a 2016 report that “neither the United States nor its Afghan allies know how many Afghan soldier and police actually exist how many are in fact available for duty, or, by extension, the true nature of their operational capabilities.”
The 2021 SIGAR quarterly report to US Congress analyzed how the Afghan National Defense and Security Force [ANDSF] could disintegrate in just 11 days. The report bulleted “problems with perceived legitimacy of the Afghan government” and “poor Afghan leadership and rampant corruption” as two factors.
“US military officials said it appeared that Afghan leaders were more corrupt than almost anyone imagined, and this had a debilitating and ultimately fatal impact on the ANDSF,” the report states before repeating Payenda’s claim.
Payenda added that troops who did actually exist were oftentimes paid late while their leaders were “double-dipping” into government wages and Taliban bribe payments to give up without a fight.