‘We haven't eaten for days’: Afghan soldiers suffer amid widespread corruption
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The Afghan army has been mired in a decades-long war against the Taliban, ever since the United States invaded the country in 2001. Corruption is also rife in the country's military. Photos sent to the FRANCE 24 Observers team shine a light on poor organisation and the difficulties that Afghan troops face, from insufficient food and pay to a lack of suitable clothing. On top of these practical problems, soldiers also face a strategic disadvantage: the Taliban has had increasing access over the last few years to better weapons.
Photo published by the news site Ava Press in 2017, on the topic of the insufficient food rations for soldiers in Ghor province.
"If we want to eat a big enough meal, we have to buy it ourselves"
Ahmad B. (not his real name) is an officer in Kandahar Province in the south of the country, a dangerous area where there is regular conflict with Taliban fighters. He requested anonymity as he's not allowed to talk to the media.
If a soldier has to fight against the Taliban every day, he needs at least enough food to feel full. It doesn't even have to be nutritious. The photo that I sent you is a ration for five people. A tiny bit of mutton, some broth and five small pieces of bread.
The food in the Afghan army has never been particularly good, but it's got worse over the last few months. If we want to eat enough food, we have to buy it ourselves. We do that from time to time, but if we buy food every day we'll end up up spending all we earn and then how do we support our families?
Photo sent by our Observer.
"Our boots have holes in them"
Another problem is our uniforms. Lots of soldiers don't have enough money to buy their own clothing. They wear boots with holes in them and shiver with cold whenever they go outside. Here the temperature often drops to below zero and the boots that we're given aren't enough to cope with such a cold climate. There's not enough fuel for the heaters so we have to collect firewood to heat up our base.
We have to buy winter clothing ourselves at the market if we don't want to freeze. The uniforms that we're meant to buy are resold on the black market. Can you believe that, that an Afghan soldier isn't provided with a proper winter uniform? That uniform exists, but he has to find it himself in the streets of Kabul or Kandahar.
We are not even in the worst situation. We're in a main military base, but soldiers posted in rural zones, in checkpoints or garrisons for example, live in far worse conditions. Sometimes they're completely cut off from the main base for weeks and only receive the strict minimum in terms of supplies.
Soldiers posted in hte Ghurmach region. Photo published on the news site Afghan Paper.
Afghan politicians and media have highlighted this situation in recent years.
General Ziaeddin Sagheb, an army commander in Ghor Province in central Afghanistan spoke about this in October 2017, saying, "In the last three months, our food rations have been drastically reduced and eventually cut altogether. Soldiers have to bring their own food and those who have nothing have to go door-to-door and beg to have some bread to eat." At the time, the Afghan army was fighting the Taliban in two zones in the region.
Soldiers in Ghurmach in the northern province of Faryab had spoken to a local media about the same topic just a month before, saying, "We haven't eaten for days. We only have four sacks of flour for 400 soldiers. No one cares about us. We can't fight the Taliban on only bread and water."
"Contractors bribe army commanders in order to get more contracts"
Masoud D. [not his real name] is an Afghan journalist that specialises in military and security matters. He has interviewed many soldiers over his career, and also asked us to remain anonymous.
The Afghan army usually outsources the supply of food to local contractors. These contractors get the contracts through contacts. Usually, they bribe or blackmail army commanders in order to get the contract.
In lots of cases, the quantity and quality of the food is terrible. Some soldiers don't get anything. When soldiers or their commanders try to speak up about the problem, nothing happens. Politicians are busy elsewhere, and because of the corruption between the contractors and the army commanders, nothing happens.
In May 2018, the police in Badghis province in the north-west of Afghanistan confirmed that a contractor that provided food to Afghan security forces was serving up dog meat.
Endemic corruption in the army
Mohammad Naeim Ghayour, the former chief of military intelligence in the west of Afghanistan, attested to the widespread corruption in the Afghan army in an interview in 2011.
Corruption is huge in the army, and that's because there's a lot of money at stake," he explained. "I witnessed a meeting between an army garrison delegate and a contractor who was going to provide the food rations. They agreed to use bad quality ingredients so that they could turn a profit."
According to official statistics provided by a US Congress report, the Afghan army lost up to 10% of its soldiers in 2018 alone because of casualties and desertion.
According to the same report, there are thousands of 'ghost soldiers' in the ranks of the Afghan army: soldiers who exist only on paper, allowing commanders to inflate their budgets and fill their pockets. An Afghan army soldier earns only 200 dollars a month.
Article by Ershad Alijani.