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Watchdog raises concerns US money paying Afghan 'ghost workers'

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Jan. 31: An Afghan newly graduated border police officer, right, salutes his commander before receiving his certification during a graduation ceremony at the border police headquarter in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province east of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)

A watchdog is raising concerns that some of the money the U.S. is spending to pay the salaries of police officers in Afghanistan may be going to non-existent “ghost workers.” 

John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction, wrote in a letter last month to U.S. military officials in Afghanistan that the possibility of “ghost workers” was raised several times during his most recent trip to the country, and during discussions with European Union officials.

Sopko said he wants to get to the bottom of the rumors, and noted he has been encouraged by discussions with officials in Afghanistan to address the concerns.

However, Sopko said more action must be taken to determine how exactly American money is flowing through the Afghan banking system and into the salaries of their police force.

“If there is significant ghost payrolling or other mismanagement of these funds, it is not only a waste of money, but reliance on inaccurate (Afghan National Police) numbers could undermine U.S. transition planning as we continue to withdraw troops from Afghanistan,” he wrote.

Sopko asked the officials to provide him with updates on any evidence of “ghostworking” or other financial mismanagement in Afghanistan, and also asked the U.S. officials to coordinate with other donors to the Afghan trust fund to see if they have identified fraud as well.

In response, U.S. Army Major General Kevin Wendel, the head of the Combined Security Transition Command for Afghanistan, wrote a letter to Sopko saying they have not found evidence anyone has ever knowingly funneled money to a “ghost worker.”

“Our review of the payroll process is not complete, and we are continuing to work diligently with both ministries to establish personnel and resource accountability as automated systems are fully deployed,” he wrote.

Wendel said they are working with the Department of Defense inspector general to further investigate the payroll and the flow of U.S. funds.