After spending $83 billion training up and arming Afghan troops to face the Taliban, U.S. military leaders seemed as surprised as anyone at the ease with which the Islamist militant group swept back into power this summer. Now, a former finance minister has explained the dizzying collapse of the Afghan National Army: Most of its 200,000 soldiers only existed on paper. The idea that Afghan troop numbers were unreliable is not a new one. But Khalid Payenda, who resigned as finance minister as the Taliban advanced, said as many as five in six soldiers were “ghosts.” He told the BBC: “The way the accountability was done, you would ask the chief in that province how many people you have and based on that you could calculate salaries and ration expenses and they would always be inflated.” Payenda said soldiers who were killed or deserted were also routinely kept on the books, with their commanders using their bank cards to take their salaries. And he said many generals were “double-dipping,” accepting money from the Taliban on top of their government salaries to give up without a fight.
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