U.S.-Funded Afghan Local Police Riddled With Corruption, Audit Finds
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And one place that's been receiving many millions of Americans tax dollars is Afghanistan. One man who's keeping an eye on how that money is spent is John Sopko. He is the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction. This week, his group is out with an audit of the Afghan Local Police. It was created back in 2010 by the U.S. military as the Taliban threat heated up.
JOHN SOPKO: The purpose of this force was to try to bring police presence out in areas of Afghanistan that the national police did not operate. It was also - you may want to call it a version of community policing.
MONTAGNE: That was the idea. In fact, many units of the ALP have been criticized from the beginning for preying on the very people they were created to protect. Sopko's report adds to those allegations, other allegations of fraud, corruption and mismanagement, of the almost $500 million the U.S. has spent funding the program so far, putting in uniform 28,000 police. The report found, for example, U.S. special force mentors observed bribe taking by the local police. John Sopko also points to the improper use of those police.
SOPKO: The local police are being used a lot as security guards for the local warlords. We don't know how bad it is because we - and I mean the U.S. government - really don't have a presence out in many of the areas where the Afghan Local Police are operating.
MONTAGNE: How did it happen that there's so little oversight? And what kind of money are you talking about in terms of potential losses?
SOPKO: You know, we haven't documented an exact amount of money that's been stolen. We just identified as a problem we don't know how many police there are or how many soldiers there are or how many civil servants there are. Why it's important is because we pay the salaries of all of them. We do know there are ghost workers, ghost police, ghost military. Every time I go to Afghanistan I'm told that by senior Afghan officials. So we're actually sort of driving blind on this. And what's important is in an area like Kunduz, the front line of defense were the Afghan Local Police. And if they don't exist, if the police units are paper units, just like what we saw in Iraq, then you're going to have more Kunduzes in the future.
MONTAGNE: Can you break down for us, you know, a moment in time? Say there's supposedly a policeman who exists, and he puts in for his pay. How would he turn into a ghost? I mean, how would you not know he's there?
SOPKO: Well, what you would do is you create a fictitious person, and then you submit paperwork for the pay. If the pay is done in cash, then you just walk off with it. That's the concern. If there's no documentation, there could be seven people saying they're Renee Montagne getting pay. This is not unique. This is what we have been finding time and again in programs throughout all the agencies.
MONTAGNE: I spoke with a top official recently about calls to disband this local Afghan police, and the answer as to why not only is it not being disbanded but reportedly may be doubled in the face of the Kunduz takeover is that to release or fire men trained and armed and to take away their salaries would be more dangerous than letting everything proceed for now up against the Taliban.
SOPKO: Whoever you talked to I think was probably right. It is dangerous to, you know, pink slip people who have guns. I mean, right now there's no transition plan what to do with the ALP because we're paying $121 million a year As of next September, I think of September 2016, there is no plan what to happen after that.
MONTAGNE: John Sopko is the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction. He's out with a report this week on the Afghan Local Police. Thank you very much for joining us.
SOPKO: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.