New Report Shows Corruption is Major Threat to Effective Security Assistance

For years, Afghanistan has been rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world and the massive infusion of foreign aid, including military and police aid, has often exacerbated, if not fueled, the problem. To help countries furnishing aid to countries like Afghanistan, Transparency International’s new report, Corruption: Lessons from the International Mission in Afghanistan provides helpful insights and recommendations on how to reduce these problems and consequences.  

According to the report’s section on training and equipping the Afghan Army and Police, the international community needs to include better and more focused training and support on recognizing corruption threats. Specifically, the report noted that a country’s military and police need training to recognize corruption threats that exist outside the security forces and help building transparency and accountability measures within the security forces to protect against internal corruption.

The report’s conclusions are the result of extensive interviews with a variety of relevant international actors involved in Afghanistan and a few Afghans who singled out four areas of vulnerability to corruption: procurement, promotion, payment, and oversight.

Across the country, corruption is perceived to be a major problem in Afghanistan and, as Sarah Chayes highlights in her recent book, is a major factor in perpetuating the countries insecurity. Transparency International has consistently ranked Afghanistan as one of the most corrupt countries in the world through its corruption perceptions index. Despite the poor rankings, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has received some praise. One interviewee explained that the “ANA patrols and ANA check-posts were much preferred by truck drivers carrying basic goods,” compared to the Afghan National Police.

Nevertheless, both the police and military’s corrupt practices led many interviewees to suggest more focused training on corruption and accountable governance, more broadly, was needed. For example, a cycle of corruption existed in the hiring, promotion and paying of security forces. Positions and promotions were often purchased for “huge sums of money” through bribes. Then, needing to pay off their debts, supervisors withheld pay to their subordinates until they paid a fee to have their salaries released. This cycle was found to head all the way up the chain of command.

These corrupt practices have reportedly improved in the last few years as superiors have been removed from the payment process, but more progress is needed according to the report.

The section on security assistance concluded by focusing on the need to establish the rule of law. One interviewee even noted, “You cannot deal with corruption unless you can build the rule of law,” adding, “I would have focused more on a judiciary that was independent and respected. I would have started there rather than a police force.” The implication being that policing is only as good as its ability to bring justice to those committing illegal acts be it corruption or murder.

The United States has invested billions of dollars into Afghanistan’s security forces. In fact, earlier this week, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, highlighted that the United States has spent $110 billion for Afghan reconstruction. Remarkably this surpasses the amount spent for the Marshall Plan when adjusted for inflation. Sopko noted that most of that money has gone to build a “modern security apparatus” and within the next couple years, about half of the $15 billion requested will go to the Afghan security forces. Much of this money has been siphoned off through corruption. Mr. Sopko remains cautiously optimistic that the Unites States and its ally’s efforts to build effective and sustainable security forces will succeed, but he raised many of the same concerns raised by Transparency International and others.

Transparency International has produced an important report that demonstrates the need to emphasize anti-corruption when providing not just development assistance, but also security assistance to foreign forces.


Seth Binder is the Program Associate for the Security Assistance Monitor and covers the Middle East and North Africa.