A new U.S. audit says Afghan authorities don't know how many police they have or whether everyone getting a police salary is actually doing the job, a situation ripe for abuse and waste of international donations.
The audit released Monday by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction says the country's police rolls and payrolls can't be verified because of poor record keeping.
"That means you can have ghost employees, it means you can have AWOL employees, it means you can have individuals who are under multiple names collecting paychecks," the inspector general, Herbert Richardson, told a Washington hearing. "Therein lies a very significant problem now and down the road. We need to get our hands around it."
The U.S. and other international donors are spending billions of dollars to build up Afghan security forces so they can one day take over their own security. Richardson was auditing a program under which donor nations have spent $1.5 billion since 2002 _ more than a third from the U.S. _ primarily to cover salaries of the Afghan National Police.
A larger program has been spending about $10 billion a year in 2010 and 2011 alone to train, equip and build infrastructure for a range of Afghan forces, including police, soldiers and an air force. That program calls for increasing the number of Afghan police to 134,000 by October from the 81,509 of two years ago. But Richardson's audit showed Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior can neither verify how many are in the police workforce now, nor whether the payroll money is being spent correctly.
"There is no centralized, automated system put in place by the Ministry of Interior to identify the Afghan national police who are actually on the rolls and who are being paid," Richardson told a hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting. "Without that type of system in place, they cannot specifically _ and they have not specifically _ been able to tell us where the money is actually going."
The ministry uses various manual and automated tracking systems that they can't reconcile. For instance, the database for police personal identification cards shows about 125,000 employees while the system that records personnel biometrics and drug tests shows fewer than 112,000 employees.
Another problem beyond payroll is the potential loss of weapons and equipment to "ghost" employees who go AWOL. "Are they supplying insurgents?" Richardson asked. "It is a question that is evolving."
"Until we can specifically identify that these individuals are actually there on the payroll and being paid, and doing what we asked them to do, then those numbers for all practical purposes become somewhat fictitious," he said.
Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.