Risk Areas

3.4 Ghost soldiers

Explanation of risk area

‘Ghost soldiers’ refer to non-existent troops added to personnel rosters by officials to pocket the salary allocated for these soldiers. In some cases, ghost soldiers persist because casualties are not removed from rosters; in others, the names are made up. In other contexts, the soldiers do in fact exist, but do not show up to train or fight. Their salary is then split between the soldier and the commanding officer hiding their absence. In both cases, absence of personnel and inaccurate data waste resources, impede operational planning and execution, and can lead to operational failures.

Consequences for the mission

Inability to plan operations effectively

Low morale

Diversion and waste of resources


External Link

Ghost soldiers and the fall of Mosul

During the 2014 battle of Mosul, ghost soldiers in the ranks of the Iraqi security forces rendered the efforts to defend the city ineffective. With units at a fraction of their nominal strength, the city fell to a numerically inferior ISIS force.

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Case Study: Afghanistan: Corruption and the making of warlords

Ghost soldiers in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, reports of police chiefs inflating personnel numbers to pocket salaries, as well as of army units whose actual strength could not be verified, have been noted at least since 2006. In 2006 and 2007, for example, field visits from US officers and provincial surveys confirmed the existence and presence of about 76% of the more than 45,000 police officers meant to be on duty. In October 2016, Taliban forces overran the Helmand town of Nawa, whose defences were found unexpectedly weak as more than half of the 700 policemen assigned to defend the district only existed on paper. A similar problem affected the ANA in Helmand: in 2016, a newly appointed commander found that out of 250 soldiers assigned to 10 checkpoints, only 96 were actually at their posts and out of those 96, only 54 had weapons.

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Indicators & Warnings

Discrepancies between reported and actual personnel numbers

Shortages in personnel, for example in manning of checkpoints

Cash-based payment systems

Commanding officers responsible for disbursement of salaries