The BBC reported that

The Sigar report also notes that these figures include “ghost” security personnel.

This, it says, means that “more than $300 million a year was spent paying salaries to non-existent personnel in the Afghan security forces”.

Basically, I'm curious how may "ghost" soldiers that "$300 million a year" would pay for. So, what was the average pay of an Afghan soldier in the regime that fell this August?

1 Answer 1


Per this wiki article, though may not be up-to-date, the pay-scale for the Afghanistan soldier looks like this:

Under the US–Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (July 4, 2012), the United States designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally and agreed to fund the ANA until at least 2024. This included soldiers' salaries, providing training and weapons, and all other military costs. (The majority of training of the ANA is undertaken in the Afghan National Security University. In 2019, the ANA had approximately 180,000 soldiers out of an authorized strength of 195,000.)

Soldiers in the Army initially received $30 a month during training and $50 a month upon graduation, though the basic pay for trained soldiers later rose to $165. This starting salary increased to $230 a month in an area with moderate security issues and to $240 in those provinces where there was heavy fighting. About 95% of the men and women who served in the military were paid by electronic funds transfer. Special biometrics were used during the registration of each soldier


Say the $300 million spending figure is accurate, so the average salary per soldier per month could be:

  • For the prevalent claim that there are 300,000 soldiers $/month = 300,000,000/(300,000*12) = $83 per soldier/month.

  • For the US planned 195,000 soldiers, $/month = 300,000,000/(195,000*12) = $128 per soldier/month.

As both salaries are within the salary range indicated in the article, so if there is an accurate headcount, say 100,000 active soldiers, the number of ghost soldiers then is likely between 200,000 and 95,000. However, the actual headcount is everybody's guess.

  • 1
    $235/month is $2,820 yearly. $300 million would then cover 106,383 soldiers as a sort of lower bound. $165/mo would cover 151,515 soldiers. Is the claim that most of that 180,000 were "ghost" soldiers, or the US was paying nearly twice that number? Aug 19, 2021 at 21:11
  • @AzorAhai-him- The article claims there were 180,000 soldiers out of the allotted 195,000, so the average will be between $30 - $240 depending on how many were new recruits and how many were faced with heavy fighting. The distribution data wasn't available though, also note the time of reports of different sources.
    – r13
    Aug 19, 2021 at 21:25
  • Unless something was lost in the summary, you stated that starting salary was no lower than $165 when the US left (but was lower earlier). It's not clear what the training salary was as of Aug. 1, 2021. Obviously as average salary goes down, the more "ghost soldiers" can be paid for with $300 million, so the point is kind of moot. So I'm trying to understand whether the ANA was comprised of something like 20,000 real soldiers and 100,000+ "ghost" ones; or if there were 180,000 real soldiers and an additional 100,000+ on payroll. Aug 19, 2021 at 21:37
  • @AzorAhai-him- "Soldiers in the Army initially received $30 a month during training and $50 a month upon graduation, though the basic pay for trained soldiers later rose to $165. This starting salary increased to $230 a month in..." Time wasn't specified, so it might not be the latest, but can only go up, not down I believe. Further assume the average is $200 per month, #soldier = 300,000,000/(200*12) = 125,000. The result indicates the average salary at the time of the 300 million figure was reported is less than $200 per month.
    – r13
    Aug 19, 2021 at 21:58
  • 1
    @AzorAhai-him-: frankly the original (BBC) article itself is unclear on that. One would have to dig up the SIGAR report to answer that question. It's a good one though, i.e. whether this issue of "ghost" soldiers had or hadn't been taken into account already in various US reports of Afghan troop strength. (It's also not clear merely from the BBC how the SIGAR even came up with the $300 million. It's possible they did the calculation "in reverse", i.e. starting from some estimate of ghost soldier numbers.) Aug 20, 2021 at 0:25

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