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Afghan General Tasked With Cutting Corruption Is Now Accused of It

One of Afghanistan's top generals, appointed by the country's president to clean up corruption in war-torn Helmand Province, has been arrested on sweeping corruption charges after little more than a year on the job, senior Afghan officials said on Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. M. Moein Faqir, the former commander of the 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army in Helmand Province, was arrested Monday by the Afghan attorney general on charges that included misuse of food money meant to supply his soldiers, according to Lt. Gen. Helaludin Helal, a deputy defense minister.

General Faqir's reported arrest was the latest in a long series of setbacks in efforts to fight official corruption in Helmand, Afghanistan's most violent province, where Taliban insurgents now dominate 12 of 14 districts. He was appointed in December 2015 after a scandal involving "ghost soldiers," in which up to 40 percent of the 215th Corps's troops were said to exist only on paper so corrupt officers could collect extra pay.

Further illustrating the difficulty of bringing Afghan officials to account for their actions, General Faqir, reached by telephone on Tuesday, denied that he had been arrested, although he confirmed corruption charges against him. "I am home," he said. "What the government is saying are all allegations. If they prove them, I am ready to be hanged."

General Faqir also said he had been fired "about five to six months ago." His dismissal had long been rumored but not previously confirmed publicly.

The 215th Corps, with an authorized strength of 18,000 soldiers, is one of the army's six combat corps and the one that has seen by far the heaviest fighting in recent years, as the Taliban have gone from controlling two of Helmand's districts to dominating a dozen of them. Helmand is also the center of the opium poppy trade and the producer of most of Afghanistan's heroin, contributing to corruption.

Also under investigation is the former provincial police chief in Helmand, Abdul Rahman Sarjang, whom President Ashraf Ghani appointed as a reformer and then fired last year, allegedly for selling the posts of district chiefs of police in the province.

Maj. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, the spokesman for the Defense Ministry, insisted that General Faqir had been arrested. "His corruption case was in process in the attorney general's office, and yesterday, he was present there for investigation and then he was arrested," General Waziri said.

General Helal said the specific charges against General Faqir included misuse of supplies and soldiers' food, neglect of duty and lack of transparency in the use of fuel, food and other supplies. The theft of fuel intended for army vehicles has long been a concern of the American authorities and the subject of inquiries by the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction. Most Afghan military expenditures are paid for by the United States government.

Theft of money meant to buy food for soldiers has also been a common problem, extending even into the main military hospital, where in 2011 some soldier patients reportedly starved to death.

The American military has been concerned enough about the deteriorating situation in Helmand that in the past two years it has sent reinforcements there, both as trainers to help build up the 215th Corps and as special operations troops to supplement Afghan military operations. An additional 300 Marines are due in Helmand this spring, the first such deployment there since 2014.

In an interview last March, General Faqir boasted that not only did he clean up corruption in the 215th Corps after he took over but that he also brought greater government control to the province – claims that were soon contradicted by events on the ground.

"I have brought about reform in this camp," he said. "There are no ghost soldiers in this corps now."

At the time, the general seemed particularly concerned about bringing in flowers by helicopter to beautify his headquarters.

Some of his officers said fighting had died down for a while because General Faqir seemed uninterested in taking on the Taliban. Some local officials were scathing. "Whether a police chief or a corps commander, they're only here to fill their empty pockets," said Mullah Majid Akhonzada, the deputy chairman of the Helmand provincial council, referring to General Faqir and General Sarjang.

Jamshid Rasuli, a spokesman for Afghanistan's attorney general, denied that the accused general was sitting at home. "General Faqir is under detention, he was arrested yesterday," he said. "I cannot say his location for security reasons."

A spokesman for Mr. Ghani declined to comment on the charges against General Faqir and General Sarjang. "We don't have any reaction, as both generals are under investigation," he said.

The strategic district of Sangin in Helmand, where more British, American and coalition soldiers have died than in any other place in Afghanistan, fell last week to the Taliban. General Waziri, however, insisted it had not, and said officials had simply moved the district center to protect civilians.

[Source: By Rod Nordland and Fahim Abed, The New York Times, Kabul, 28Mar17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 30Mar17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.