“Ghost” armies of Iraq and Afghanistan continue a long tradition

There have been recent reports about large numbers of “ghost” employees in the military and police forces of Iraq and Afghanistan, who exist on paper to extract (or account for) large amounts of external funding.

The Iraqi Army was recently revealed to have 50,000 “ghost” soldiers who conducted “ghost” exercises with “ghost” ammunition. But these soldiers were not like Aragorn’s Army of the Dead who swept aside the forces of Mordor. Instead, they melted away into their nothingness when faced by the ISIS fighters in Mosul in June last year.


The Unz Review: The Iraqi army includes 50,000 “ghost soldiers” who do not exist, but their officers receive their salaries fraudulently according to the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “The Prime Minister revealed the existence of 50,000 fictitious names,” said a statement after a thorough headcount during the latest salary payments. 

The Iraqi army has long been notorious for being wholly corrupt with officers invariably paying for their jobs in order to make money either through drawing the salaries of non-existent soldiers or through various other scams. One Iraqi politician told The Independent a year ago that Iraqi officers “are not soldiers, they are investors”. In the years before the defeat of the army in Mosul in June by a much smaller force from Isis, Iraqi units never conducted training exercises. At the time of Isis’s Mosul offensive, government forces in Mosul were meant to total 60,000 soldiers and federal police but the real figure was probably closer to 20,000. …..

….. Another source of earnings for officers are checkpoints on the roads which act like customs barriers on national frontiers. All goods being transported have to pay a tariff and this will again go into the pockets of the officer corps. These will have paid highly for promotion, with the bribe for becoming a colonel $200,000 (£127,000) and a divisional commander $2m. This money would usually be borrowed and paid back out earnings.

There have been similar scams in Afghanistan.

The GuardianEach year, foreign donors pay hundreds of millions of dollars to fund salaries for members of the Afghan national police. According to a US government watchdog, however, there is little proof of where the money ends up.

In a report released on Monday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar) writes that much of that money may in fact be bankrolling “ghost workers” – fictional employees created to enrich police chiefs.

Business Insider: The U.S. may be unwittingly doling out checks to “ghost workers” of the Afghan National Police who don’t even exist, according to an alert letter sent from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The letter alleges payment of salaries to non-existent members of the police force, and comes as just the latest in a string of fraud, waste, and abuse exposed by SIGAR under the leadership of John Sopko. …… The letter follows a previous report from SIGAR that found $6.3 million in payments going to Afghan police to fix broken vehicles, many of which had been out of service for over a year or had even been destroyed. …….. Previous reports found the Pentagon paid $12.8 million for equipment that went completely unused, records being shredded of $201 million in fuel purchases for the Afghan National Army, and millions from the U.S. military actually ending up in the hands of the Taliban, among many others.

But the use of these “virtual” employees is nothing new. It was probably first invented by the construction industry and construction probably became an industry as early as in the construction of the pyramids in Egypt and the temples of Babylon some 4 -5,000 years ago. (It is perhaps fitting since Old Babylon lay close to present day Baghdad).

The construction industry uses “ghost” workers primarily for the following reasons:

  1. to milk funds for publicly funded projects – especially for job creation projects,
  2. to avoid minimum wage laws,
  3. to avoid taxes or compulsory employee contributions

Construction sites with their large numbers of transient workers are notoriously difficult to check. Even “ghost” sites with “ghost” workers are not unknown. Very often these construction workers are paid daily and in cash. The use of ghost workers then allows the conversion of project funds into untraceable cash, accumulated in slush funds, for various nefarious purposes.

In recent times the growth of the NGO’s acting as contractors, who often get their funding from charities or public monies, has led to the padding of employee numbers and fictitious payrolls.  Even during the Ebola outbreak, local politicians were busy milking the funds available in Sierra Leone with over 6,000 “ghost” workers. So much so that the British government refused to channel its funds through local organisations.

According to report, this is the first time that the British Government has openly condemned the Sierra Leone Government publicly for alleged misuse of the former’s support to the latter. This development, according to report, took place on Monday 8thDecember, 2014. On the same day, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) issued a news release expressing massive corruption and fraud in the National Ebola Response Center (NERC). The Association expressed worries over the widespread of corruption in the handling of the Ebola Funds by authorities in charge. SLAJ was particularly concerned about the disclosures of the NERC’s CEO’s revelation that some 6,000 ghost names were have been discovered in the weekly payment voucher for healthcare workers in the frontline, and the strikes by healthcare workers negatively impacting on the fight against the Ebola.

I first heard about “ghost” locums in the NHS in the UK as a student in the 1960s. In Japan it was obligatory to use local construction crews for the construction and erection of power plant equipment and we were required to hire the entire crew. My best estimates were that the crews – on paper – contained about 20% more names than ever appeared on site. In the US I found that “unionised” power plant sites always needed between 10- 20% more construction workers than non-unionised sites (always through contractors of course). It was a similar story on sites in India and Africa. Through the 1990s it was a lucrative business to start an NGO with funding from abroad (and probably still is). Often the funding was based on covering all “approved” (but ghostly) personnel costs and covering external purchases for approved projects. But here the “head” of the NGO was essentially the owner of an “enterprise”.

“Ghosts” are not going away anytime soon.

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