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10 Nov, 2021 14:58

‘Ghost soldiers’ to blame for Afghan government’s quick defeat – ex-minister

‘Ghost soldiers’ to blame for Afghan government’s quick defeat – ex-minister

Afghanistan's former finance minister has claimed that “ghost soldiers” and corrupt government officials were responsible for the Taliban's ability to quickly seize control of the country, as NATO forces withdrew their personnel.

Speaking on Wednesday, Khalid Payenda, who served as the Afghan finance minister immediately before the Taliban's takeover, claimed that around 300,000 soldiers and police officers listed on the government's payroll did not exist.

The so-called “ghost soldiers” were kept on the books by corrupt officials who pocketed their wages, according to Payenda, who said they were “desertions [and] martyrs who were never accounted for” by commanders who “would keep their bank cards.”

The situation allowed the Taliban to quickly seize control of territory in Afghanistan, as American and NATO forces withdrew from the country. Due to false accounting by provincial officials, Payenda says that the actual numbers had been inflated by up to six times the actual figure.

The United States had previously raised concerns about the actual number of troops and police in Afghanistan, with a 2016 US Special Inspector General report laying out those fears. “Neither the United States nor its Afghan allies know how many Afghan soldiers and police actually exist,” the report stated.

Alongside the issue of “ghost soldiers,” Payenda suggested that military officials had engaged in “double-dipping,” where they had accepted government salaries and payments from the Taliban to surrender without any resistance.

Despite this, Payenda defended the former government and its president, Ashraf Ghani, refuting allegations that those at the top had been “financially corrupt,” laying the blame on provincial figures.

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The Taliban's swift victory earlier this year, after more than 20 years of US forces and NATO soldiers in the country, surprised officials around the world, who expressed shock at the speed of the militant group's advance.

Speaking following the Afghan government's collapse, President Joe Biden admitted his own surprise at how quickly things fell apart, arguing that international forces had given the Afghan government “every chance” to determine its own future.

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