Story and photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Monique LaRouche
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — A one-day financial course was recently offered to Afghan financial clerks by a joint pay assessment team, consisting of U.S. Army, Marine and civilian fiscal officers from Task Force Leatherneck.
“This is a basic-level introductory [class],” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Caruso, an officer for the pay assessment team, Regional Command Southwest, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and a New Orleans, La., native.
But, Caruso said the course is more than simple accounting. Topics covered included payroll processing, records keeping and auditing.
“We explain their pay charts and bonuses. They can begin to understand if problem exists, and the steps they can take to address it,” Caruso said.
Paying over 200,000 members in the NATO-led Afghan National Security Forces, which comprises the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Border Police can be a challenging process in Helmand. Lack of infrastructure in the province results in very few banks or roads, so consequently, managing cash over long distances can produce, at best mistakes, and at worst fraudulent practices, the pay assessment team cautions.
For Afghan soldiers and police to get paid, each must fill out a time-and-incident sheet, which is sent to the nearest Provincial Police Headquarters. After a series of approvals, funds are released and sent to either the Afghan member’s bank via electronic funds transfer, or to a “human-trusted” agent. The agent then physically travels to each of the forward operating posts in order to pay soldiers or police in cash.
Although Afghan financial clerks have been responsible for pay in the past, the system has not had adequate checks and balances, such as properly tracking funding, equipment and services. Incorporating a sound pay system is part of the long-term plan for sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghanistan as a whole.
The first step toward a sound system is properly training the clerks.
The one-day class is not mandatory, but encouraged; while enrollment in a formal, eight-week training course is offered to participants who do attend.
“The formal training gives more instruction and a continuing partnership with the financial organization to make them better,” explained Daniel Watson, a civilian financial advisor for the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps.
“If they come out of the one-day [class] saying ‘I want more’ then that is one of our success factors,” Watson said.
The financial classes are an effort to educate Afghan soldiers and police on what to expect with their pay and benefits as a start to establishing a reliable pay system.
“Those types of internal controls just make sure people are paid the right amount and on time,” Watson said.
“It’s best for [the financial clerks] to have training from a fiscal stand point,” said Caruso, adding that interest among the clerks is rising. He said attendance is up from four to 11 participants for this second class held in a two-month period.
“Today was a good meeting,” said Gul Rasul, a financial officer for the Afghan Border Police. “The reason I am here is [the instructors] are our American friends. They are financial officers and we learn from them.”
Rasul was encouraged to attend the one-day class by his financial mentor Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Fisher, a personnel advisor for the 6th Zone Afghan Border Police.
“My biggest responsibility is ensuring the Afghans are maintaining their accountability correctly, which directly affects the [Afghan Border Police] finance section,” said Fisher, who hails from Lillington, N.C.
Fisher explained that the finance section allocates money for salaries per the Afghan personnel rosters, in accordance with the time-and-incident sheets. The personnel section ensures their reports are accurate and submitted on time so that the soldiers and police are being paid correctly and on time.
“As a mentor I oversee this process, ensure that it is being done correctly, and provide input where needed,” Fisher said.
“The Marines have done a great job,” Watson said, adding the financial course in Lashkar Gah will help build the Afghan fiscal organization to move toward continued success. Watson also said that training and education is important to the future of Afghan police and military forces.