U.S. auditors have found that the Afghan government cannot determine how many people work for its national police force, whose payroll is primarily funded by the United States and other international donors, making it difficult to determine whether the money is being properly spent.

“Despite improvements, lax recordkeeping opens potential for fraud,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in a statement accompanying an audit released Monday. Building up the Afghan National Police is a key element in the U.S. strategy for bringing stability to the country.

The audit found a 10 percent difference in records and databases maintained by the Ministry of Interior, which runs the police. The various record-keeping systems showed that as of Sept. 30, 2010, the size of the force ranged from 111,774 to 125,218 personnel.

“The Ministry of Interior cannot accurately determine the actual number of personnel that work for ANP because it has been unable to reconcile its personnel records with ANP personnel available for work,” the report said.

The report noted that the ministry is “making progress” toward automating its processes but that this “continued to be an assessment challenge.” At present, the ministry uses four ways of tracking ANP personnel: paper records on personnel as assigned; manual monthly tabulations of authorized personnel; and two U.S.-funded systems, one for ANP identification cards and another that records biometric data such as fingerprints.

Herbert Richardson, the acting head of SIGAR, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting on Monday that without a single centralized system at the Afghan Interior Ministry, there has been no way to guarantee where payroll money is going.

“That means you can have ghost employees. It means you can have AWOL employees. It means you can have individuals who are under multiple names collecting paychecks, and there’s no way to account for it,” Richardson said.

Because the Afghan government cannot pay the ANP salaries, the United States and other governments have provided $1.5 billion since 2002 to a trust fund administered by the United Nations Development Program, which pays the salaries. Of that amount, the United States has supplied $545 million.

Monday’s SIGAR audit dealt only with the trust fund salary payments and not with the roughly $9 billion that the United States has spent for training, equipping and housing the ANP over the same period of time.

Overall, the United States has spent more than $29 billion on the Afghan National Security Forces, with the major share going to the army and one-third to the ANP.

At the contracting commission hearing, Richardson also discussed the uncertainty over the Afghan government’s ability to maintain more than 800 facilities for the Afghan Army and ANP that are being built with $11.4 billion in U.S. funds.

Afghan officials “agreed on the need for a long-term operation and maintenance plan,” Richardson said, “and their solution was to ask for more resources, which is fine, but they probably won’t get them.”