On paper, nearly 30,000 policemen and pro-government militiamen are tasked with protecting the province of Faryab from Taliban fighters, whose robust summer offensive threatened to claim the strategic area on Turkmenistan's border.
In reality, few of the policemen and militia members are committed, or even available, to protect Faryab. Some are in fact illegally selling government supplied arms to the insurgents. Local security sources say the number of policemen and militiamen has been vastly exaggerated so that local strongmen and officials can pocket government money.
A security source says that, of the 6,000 Afghan National Police members in Faryab paid by the national exchequer, only 3,000 can actually be accounted for. The rest are "ghosts" -- meaning that they exist only on the government payroll.
The source, who requested anonymity like many officials and Faryab residents, claims that the province's police command can confirm the presence of 3629 policemen on its payroll. But information from the Kabul Bank, which is tasked with paying government employees, shows that 6000 policemen are being paid.
The source said that Faryab police cannot even prove the presence of 3,000 policemen in the province by calling them to duty at once. "They cannot even present 1,000 policemen at any given time," the source said.
In Ghormach, a district that has frequently changed hands between government forces and the Taliban, some 256 policemen are on the payroll. But only 29 are actually serving in the region.
Inyatullah, the pseudonym of one Faryab resident, says the 'ghost' police are a major issue. "For every five policemen serving in a village there are 10 or even 15 names in the payroll," he said. "So unfortunately, the presence of ghost policemen is true. They are present in abundance."
Faryab police chief Sayed Hussain Andrabi, however, says this is not the case. "Such claims are baseless. I can tell you that we have resolved the problem of ghost policemen."
Sources in the province also say an estimated 22,000 members of local police and pro-government militias inadvertently assist the insurgents by selling arms and ammunition to them.
One source claimed that, in the Ghulam Bagh region of Faryab, government forces recently sold more than 3,000 pieces of light and heavy arms to the insurgents.
The source said police officials and militia commanders Rehmat, Shamal, Ghulam Sakhi Naveed and Qadir Surhouse have been involved in selling weapons, ammunition, and fuel to the Taliban.
"The insurgents used to find it very difficult to find light weapons but now they have heavy weapons and armored vehicles that they have bought from the police and the militias," the source said.
Radio Free Afghanistan couldn't reach the police and militia commanders accused by the source for comment. It was also not possible to independently verify the claims because of prevailing insecurity in the region.
Lawmaker Tahir Rahmani, the head of Faryab's provincial council, agrees. "All the problems are created by the local police and the anti-Taliban militias," he said. "We now want to absorb the local police into the national police."
But Faryab residents fear that their inclusion into the police force will only create new problems.
With the Taliban already in charge of four of Faryab's 14 districts, the region's residents are bracing themselves for another violent spring with the insurgents likely to unleash a new offensive to grab more territory.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Mujib Habibzai's reporting from Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.