By Christen N. McCluney
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
June 10, 2010 - A multinational team in Afghanistan is working to manage and execute the funding and development of Afghanistan's national security forces.
"I've seen some pretty dramatic improvement over the last four years," U.S. Army Col. Curt A. Rauhut, director of NATO's financial controller office that oversees the Afghanistan mission, said yesterday during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.
"Four years ago a bunch of us were sent over here to try to help expand commercial banking, because the manual system they had trying to pay people was a challenge," Rauhut said. Also, there were numerous reports of corruption and fraud throughout the country, he said.
"I'm very happy to report that the banks have expanded and there is a presence in almost all 34 provinces," Rauhut said. "I see that as a good thing."
Rauhut helps manage a joint, multinational 60-person staff, and assists in the management and execution of the Afghanistan Security Force Fund.
The mission of his team, Rauhut said, is to provide the commanding general with integrated and coordinated recommendations on budget formulation, execution and analysis so that they can have a capable Afghan national security force. His group also works to build financial reform within the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army.
Rauhut also serves as financial controller of the NATO Common Fund and provides financial oversight and management of contributions from the 19 donor nations into the NATO Trust and Sustainment Fund.
The annual budget for the ANP and the ANA is $10.2 billion, which Rauhut said is used to pay for infrastructure, equipment, training and sustainment of a force of more than 305,000 people.
Rauhut said one of his biggest challenges when he arrived in Afghanistan was getting payroll into the hands of the police officers and soldiers. Creating an electronic funds transfer system allowed workers to avoid pay fraud - which in some cases soldiers were receiving only 40 to 50 percent of their pay - and to receive their pay in a timely manner.
Currently, 95 percent of the Afghan military and 77 percent of police receive their pay through electronic funds transfer.
"There are places here in the 34 provinces where you would have to have a government entity to pay people," Rauhut said.
The team also has started a new initiative called pay by phone, where they use cell phone technology to pay members of the Afghan National police. Participants in the program receive a text message noting that money was deposited into their account. The police then go to an authorized cell phone dealer where they receive their pay instead of visiting a bank.
"We've done that just on a limited basis," Rauhut said. "But we are looking to do some more mobile banking and pay by phone initiatives for those areas that commercial banking and private banking haven't reached yet."
Another improvement that Rauhut is proud of is that there's now competitive pay for Afghan police and soldiers.
"We look at the average pay of other government workers and businessmen and offer comparable salaries to them," he said. "We are constantly monitoring the pay scales and there are adjustments that are made."
The biggest improvement that Rauhut has seen from his previous deployments is the professionalism of the training for Afghan soldiers and police. "I've been back five months and you can see the pendulum swing that Afghanistan is a priority of the [training] effort," he said.
Rauhut said the low literacy rate in Afghanistan is a challenge and officials there are working to create literate and professional military and police forces.
"There is a lot of training that is going on," he said. "Our coalition partners here bring a vast skill set that make the training here much better for the army and the police."
Rauhut said he believes his office is critical in supporting the effort to the overall strategy in Afghanistan.
"I really am pleased to see firsthand, after being here four years ago, the significant progress that has been made," he said.
"I was cautiously optimistic four years ago," he continued, "but I am now convinced a professional Afghanistan national army and Afghanistan national police force is happening and is happening now."