Afghan army special forces recruits eat lunch after exercises in the Rishkhur district outside Kabul on Feb. 25. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

Facing international criticism for military corruption and domestic anger over a deadly insurgent attack on a military hospital here, Afghan defense officials announced this week that 1,394 army personnel, including several generals, have been fired in connection with corruption charges in the past year.

The officials said Maj. Gen. Mohammad Moeen Faqir, the former commander of an Afghan army corps in the volatile south, was arrested recently on charges of embezzlement and abuse of authority. More than 300 people have been prosecuted, including military officers and civilian administrators, the officials added. 

Lt. Gen. Helaluddin Helal, a deputy defense minister, told a news conference that the ministry has “taken significant steps to tackle corruption” and is “trying to bring changes and reform” to the security ­forces, which have been heavily criticized for graft, resale of supplies meant for troops and other financial ­abuses. 

The top military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, said eight generals, 11 commanders of detachments and 296 other officers are among those suspected of crimes, including bribery, theft and murder. The officials did not describe any cases­ in detail.

The announcement of these actions came shortly after the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John F. Sopko, sharply criticized widespread corruption in the Afghan military in speeches and comments in the United States.

Sopko said that despite U.S. appropriations totaling $115 billion for reconstruction, much of it used to train Afghan security forces­ and support the civilian government, the effort remains “tenuous and incomplete.” 

In a speech at Duke University, Sopko said corruption and mismanagement are the main factors behind military failure in the country. He said that some Afghan military commanders are selling military fuel to the Taliban and stealing food supplies­ and forcing troops to buy them back.

A new report issued by the inspector general found that “the questionable capabilities” of Afghan security forces­ and “pervasive corruption” are the two most critical problems. “Without capable security ­forces, Afghanistan will never be able to stand on its own,” he said. “If these two risk areas are not addressed, I fear that our reconstruction efforts could ultimately fail.”

An editorial in the Afghanistan Times newspaper Wednesday called such massive corruption “a deadly disease” that has turned into a “cultural practice” and mocks the bravery of Afghan troops.  

Meanwhile, domestic concern over corruption and ineffective protection by the security ­forces led the Afghan parliament to summon the defense minister, interior minister and national intelligence chief this week. They were grilled about a terrorist attack on Kabul’s military hospital two weeks ago that left more than 60 people dead and several hundred wounded, after attackers disguised as medical staff invaded the facility. 

Despite the criticism, all three officials received votes of confidence and kept their jobs, but demonstrators gathered outside the parliament complex, protesting the decision and alleging that legislators had made private deals with the security officials. 

One banner held up by the protesters said, “Summoning ministers appears to be an act of seeking explanation, but in reality the members want dollars.”

A critical legislator, Hafiz Mansour, charged that the official campaign against corruption is “mostly propaganda.” In practice, he said, “no serious steps are taken against it, and millions of dollars have been deposited in private accounts at home and abroad.” But another defense official, Lt. Gen. Ghulam Sakhi Ahmadzai, insisted that the army has implemented a good system of reforms and has saved millions of dollars in the past year by tightening the food procurement process and other ­changes.