Support: Ancient Rome Shows The Afghans How It's Done

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February 23, 2012: One of the most difficult aspects of creating security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan was the lack of administrative skills and personnel to take care of logistics and pay. Getting the troops paid was particularly difficult, especially in Afghanistan. While Iraq has some experience with bureaucracy Afghanistan has much less. In fact, when armed forces are raised in Afghanistan the custom is to give the commander of each unit (a tribal militia or, more recently, the head of a regiment or brigade) a sum of money that he can distribute as he sees fit. This is actually an ancient practice. But even in the past the more effective armies had fixed pay scales and trained clerks and officials who saw to it that everyone got what they were due. This was one of the reasons the Roman armies (over 2,000 years ago) and medieval English forces (800 years ago) were so effective. But in many parts of the world, the lump-sum-to-the-boss method was used. The big drawback with this approach was that the guy getting money might keep so much of it for himself that he would find himself with some very unhappy troops.

In Afghanistan, the United States created a payment system using trained clerks, constant inspections of the payment system, and a banking system based on cell phones and traditional money changers. The system is still a work-in-progress but those soldiers and police who get their pay, regularly and in full, are ready to make a fuss if someone tries to go old-school and swipe the payroll. There are still a lot of commanders who resent losing the privilege of stealing some of their subordinates' pay, so the risk of backsliding is real.

 


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