WASHINGTON -- The top watchdog in Afghanistan said Thursday that the U.S. is potentially paying the salaries of nonexistent Afghan police officers, due in part to poor anti-corruption policies in that country.
John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), said the U.S.' failure to implement a tracking system of its reconstruction projects has contributed to cases of corruption throughout the Afghan government.
"We don't even know what we spend and where we spend it 12 years into this," Sopko said in an address at the Atlantic Council. "That's the frustrating thing."
During his most recent stint in Afghanistan, Sopko said he learned of new schools that were in "danger of collapsing," hospitals low on supplies, roads that were "disintegrating faster than we can build them." He also has been investigating allegations of possible inaccuracies in the Afghan police payroll where "ghost workers" might have been receiving compensation.
Since 2002, the international community has contributed $3.17 billion to the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, the source of funding for the salaries of Afghan national police personnel, according to Sopko. The U.S. has provided about $1.21 billion of that total. A 2011 investigation by SIGAR found there was limited assurance police personnel were the only ones to be compensated from the funds.
In a February letter released on Wednesday, Sopko said that paying for “ghost workers” in the Afghan national police would be a loss of a "very significant amount of U.S. taxpayer money."
"In response to a number of surveys, Afghan citizens have described the Afghan justice system and police force as particularly corrupt," Sopko said.
While concerns over reconstruction and the police's payroll are likely to persist after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan at the end of this year, Sopko stressed on Thursday his team will continue to investigate the allegations of corruption. Sopok also said next month's Afghan presidential elections could open the door for new leadership to tackle urgent concerns in the government.
"All the major candidates say they want to combat corruption," he said.
Responding to Sopok's concerns, Maj. Gen. Kevin R. Wendel, Afghanistan's head of transition command, said he has not found anyone "knowingly paid for non-existent workers."
"Our review of the payroll process is not complete," Wendel wrote in a memo this month responding to SIGAR's concerns. "and we are continuing to work diligently with both ministries to establish personnel and resource accountability as automated systems are fully deployed."