Letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter:
October 14, 2016 The Honorable Ashton B. Carter
Secretary of Defense
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Carter:
I am responding to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Acting) Jedidiah Royal’s October 3, 2016, response to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)’s letter to you (dated August 5, 2016) regarding “ghost soldiers” in Afghanistan.
I am appalled that the U.S. taxpayer has, and continues to pay, for “ghost soldiers” in Afghanistan. Moreover, I am also concerned about the risks that inadequacy of data concerning personnel levels of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) may pose to American forces in Afghanistan.
In Deputy Assistant Secretary Royal’s response to SIGAR, he indicates the systems that US Forces-Afghanistan are putting in place to try to verify Afghan personnel data will not be ready until at least July 2017. Given the estimate that there may be up to 200,000 “ghost soldiers,” I would respectfully request an estimate of how much funding provided to the ANDSF for salaries in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 is expected to be wasted on “ghost soldiers.”
Additionally, Deputy Assistant Secretary Royal indicates that a limited amount of funds has been withheld from the ANDSF for not adhering to the agreed-upon timeline for implementation of personnel verification systems. How much money was withheld, and what percentage does that number represent of the amount originally designated to be allocated?
Given that many Afghan military and police outposts have limited, if any, access to electricity and telecommunications systems, I would also ask whether there is a contingency plan to back-up the biometric database and personnel system given that units may not always have regular access to the technology needed to operate them? Further, under the current deployment arrangement ordered by President Obama, US forces do not have the capability to witness firsthand, at the lowest levels of the ANDSF, whether there is fraudulent use of the biometric cards. With that in mind, does DOD expect there will be salary overpayments even after July 2017?
I am also concerned about the effect the “ghost soldier” problem is having on US forces in Afghanistan. While the Afghan Minister of Defense was recently quoted as saying there is not a single “ghost soldier” in Afghanistan, the Deputy Assistant Secretary’s letter makes clear that is not the case. We know the collapse of the 215th Corps in Helmand in 2015 was at least in part due to an overestimation of ANDSF personnel in Helmand based on inflated numbers reported to the Ministry of Defense. USFOR-A subsequently deployed additional personnel closer to the front lines in Helmand to assist with improving that corps. The “ghost soldier” issue clearly is affecting decision-making within the Defense Department that affects US personnel. I would like to know how DOD plans to mitigate any further risk to US military and civilian personnel that may result from the ongoing “ghost solider” problem.
Finally, how confident is the Defense Department that the ANDSF and the Afghan government have the capability and the will to effectively implement the new systems, and when will that implementation be fully achieved? When implemented, does the Defense Department expect the “ghost soldier” problem to be eliminated, or merely reduced?
Mr. Secretary, the “ghost soldier” problem has clearly existed in Afghanistan since the beginning of US operations there. The Defense Department should have known that “ghost soldiers” represented a major risk to American personnel and American taxpayers no later than 2008, when a Government Accountability Office report raised the issue. But year after year, the administration – with far too little oversight from Congress – continues sending tens of millions of US taxpayer dollars to pay the salaries of Afghan military and police, thousands of whom never show up for duty or may not even exist. And now, we are almost $20 trillion in debt.
After 15 years of wounded and murdered Americans, it is time to bring this waste, fraud and abuse to an end. It is sickening, unaffordable, and it must stop. Many scholars have said that Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires – when this financial disaster finally brings us to our knees, maybe the ghost soldiers can visit the headstone that says United States of America.
Walter B. Jones
Member of Congress (R-NC)