Explained: Who are the Ghost Soldiers in Afghanistan Forces?
Post the fall of Kabul in August 2021, it has turned up that the Afghan Army was made up of ghost soldiers. The list of forces and police personnel were either filled with fake names or the names of the men killed in the fighting, but not officially declared dead.
Who are Ghost soldiers?
Ghost soldiers are those who are listed as soldiers on paper but in reality, do not exist. The salaries under their names are drawn by high-level officials involved in corruption. It is to be noted that the Afghan Army was funded by the US.
Highlights from the SIGAR Report
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its quarterly report on 30 July 2021 titled "What we need to learn: Lessons from twenty years of Afghanistan reconstruction". The 140-page report highlighted the ground reality of the Afghan Army.
According to the report, there are more than 30,00,000 troops who make up the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces (ANDSF), including all the armed, and law and order staff on the payroll of the Kabul Government.
It quoted an Afghan government assessment that in Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces of Afghanistan, 50% - 70% are ghost personnel, raising questions over the strength of the Afghan forces.
"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,” quoted the SIGAR Report.
SIGAR in its 2015 assessment report cited that the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) failed to provide sufficient staff to verify Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police attendance data.
It is to be noted that the CSTC-A oversaw the training and equipping of Afghan forces.
The aforementioned gap allowed the corrupt officials to artificially increase their payroll numbers and non-existent personnel to draw a salary. More than 300 USD was spent each year on the non-existent personnel.
Helmand's Provincial Council Report
The report underscored that approximately 40% of the registered forces do not exist, and the lack of manpower has helped Taliban seize the 65% of the province, and threatened the provincial capital Lashkar Gah.
In a bid to mask their failures, the commanders on several occasions have not reported accurate casualties or desertion in the ranks.
A security official was quoted by the report as saying that 300 troops were deployed to a base in Sangin, but with the fall of the base, the number of the troops was less than 15.
The US Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point
While referring to a 2014 study, the US Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point said in January 2021 that while combat forces made up around 60% of the Afghan forces, the number of soldiers present on duty each day is low.
There was an estimated on-hand army fighting force of about 96,000 soldiers, including police forces. The ANDSF were fielding a fighting force in the vicinity of 180,000 combat personnel each day.
The Taliban, on the other hand, have an estimated 60,000 core fighters, give or take 10-20%, but a 2017 study concluded that the insurgent group’s total manpower is over 200,000 individuals. The Taliban may be a less technically sophisticated fighting force than the Afghan army but is a leaner force than the ANDSF.
Ministry of Defense's statement
Rejecting the reports on the existence of Ghost Soldiers in the Afghan Army, the Ministry of Defense said that members of the Army have been recognized by the biometric system.
Defense Ministry spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said that at least 100% of Afghan National Army personnel have a physical presence in their duties and that those who were involved in corruption are under investigation by the ministry.
Tolo News quoted Ahmadzai as saying, “There is no ‘ghost soldier’ in the ranks of the Afghan National Army. SIGAR has not contacted the Ministry of Defense when it made the report and it has not asked for information from the Ministry of Defense.”
Comparison between the Taliban Forces and Afghan Army
Seen as a less technically sophisticated fighting force than the Afghan Army, the Taliban has a leaner force than the ANDSF, relying majorly on foreign funding for military infrastructure. Also, the Taliban recruited and deployed new fighters in recent years to withstand significant casualties, thousands per year, as per estimates.
The reports have emerged on how the US military equipment fell into the hands of the Taliban. Wherever the Afghan soldiers have fled Taliban attacks, they abandoned the US-supplied equipment. The equipment was then displayed on social media by the Taliban to tout its victories.
Morale was another key element where the Taliban forces score certainly more than the Afghan army. While Afghan forces were seen as offering resistance in some districts, in others they surrendered or fled.
Although the Afghan forces were better funded and equipped than the Taliban, they suffered from a lack of cohesion and organisational support. The Afghan forces have complained lack of logistical backing and food as they face an increasingly crippling onslaught from the Taliban, as per New York Times.
Some soldiers were pampered with vegetables and meat, but others endured on a diet of rice and green tea. Soldiers in Marjah offered the Taliban a machine gun for a sack of flour and many Afghan officers were involved in drug smuggling, as per the reports.
In February 2020, the United States decided on the complete departure of US troops. The withdrawal of the US troops started in 2021 in a phased manner and the Biden administration requested a funding increase for Afghan security forces to $3.33 billion for FY 2022. This void created by the departure of US troops helped the Taliban to seize the country in a matter of weeks, as Afghan security forces either abandoned their posts or were overrun.