The U.S. inspector general for Afghanistan warned Tuesday that some of the same issues that led to the collapse of the Iraqi Army exist within the ranks of the Afghan Army — and that Afghanistan is not ready to defend itself without U.S. support.
"The Afghans are fighting and bleeding all over their country, and they are very brave people, so I don't want to question their capability as fighters," said John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, at a breakfast meeting with reporters. But the Afghan economy is still in a precarious state and dependent upon U.S. and coalition partner financial and military support, he said, which leaves it vulnerable if that support withdraws.
"We go cold turkey, the government will collapse," Sopko said. "They don't have the capabilities to really keep the government functioning and keep the military functioning without our help."
In December 2014, months after the Iraqi Army collapsed as it faced the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Mosul, the new Iraqi government announced it had discovered up to 50,000 "ghost soldiers" on the Iraqi government's payroll. The list was made up of fake personnel added to payrolls by Iraqi officials to corruptly siphon off those salaries.
The same obfuscation is happening in Afghanistan with reported numbers of fighting forces, Sopko warned. Because it is nearly impossible to get off base to audit in Afghanistan now, there's no way to verify what the actual force strength or capability of the Afghanistan National Security Forces.
"We don't know how many Afghan soldiers there are and we don't know what their capability is. And the Afghans don't know how many soldiers or police they have and what their capabilities are," Sopko said.
The inspector general said U.S. agencies involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan have played a role in creating a false sense of progress there, too, in reporting numbers of Afghan children in schools and soldiers in training.
"All the money [the U.S. sends] is based upon those numbers. So the money for salaries we pay, for boots, for shoes for bullets for advisers for everything are based upon the numbers [Afghanistan reports it has.]"
"We are paying a lot of money for ghosts in Afghanistan," Sopko said. "Whether they are ghost teachers, ghost doctors or ghost policeman or ghost soldiers."