Afghan troop numbers down with purge of ghost soldiers

Troop numbers are down by at least 42,000 since last year

epa07745786 Afghan soldiers attend their graduation ceremony in Herat, Afghanistan, 28 July 2019. Some 1000 soldiers and officers graduated from a three-month military course and commissioned to the West of country army. Since the NATO combat mission ended in January 2015, the insurgents have been gaining ground in various parts of Afghanistan and currently control, influence or are fighting the government in least 43 per cent of the country, according to the US.  EPA/JALIL REZAYEE
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In recent months, the size of Afghanistan’s National Defence force has been dramatically reduced.

But far from being the result of the security situation or possible peace talks with the insurgent Taliban, it is a bid by the government and the United States to stamp out “ghost” soldiers – men whose names appear only on paper.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that the size of the Afghan military was down by nearly 10 per cent in the last three months of the previous period.

The names of around 42,000 fewer soldiers appeared on the books between April and June this year compared to the same period last year.

The special inspector said that the reduction was because of a change in accounting from the number reported as being on-hand by officials in the field to the number of biometrically validated forces.

"The change was part of an effort by the United States and its partners to reduce opportunities for corrupt [Afghan military] officials to report 'ghost' (nonexistent) soldiers and police on personnel rolls in order to pocket the salaries," the report said.

With a potential US drawdown looming, recent Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have underscored pressure on Afghanistan’s overstretched security forces.

Washington is attempting to clinch a framework peace agreement with the Taliban to end America’s longest and most expensive war. One expected aspect of the agreement is a timeline for withdrawing many or all of the 14,000 troops the US has in Afghanistan.

Around 9,000 of those forces are involved in training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces. US officials have long expressed concerns about the strength and capability of the Afghan forces, especially without adequate international support.

Since the beginning of the reconstruction, America has attempted to build the capacity of the government and security so that it can operate alone. US planners fear a repeat of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 where the Moscow backed government, unable to keep back the Mujahedeen forces, collapsed within three years.