Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.

Anja Niedringhaus, Associated Press

Karzai acknowledges 'small amount' of cash from CIA

  • Article by: Matthew Rosenberg
  • New York Times
  • April 29, 2013 - 9:38 PM


– Afghan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged on Monday that the CIA has been dropping off bags of cash at his office for a decade, saying the money was used for “various purposes” and thanking the United States for making the payments.

Karzai described the sums as a “small amount,” and offered few other details. But former and current advisers of the Afghan leader have said the CIA’s deliveries have totaled tens of millions of dollars over the past decade and have been used to pay off warlords, lawmakers and others whose support the Afghan leader depends upon.

The payments are not universally supported in the U.S. government. American diplomats and soldiers expressed dismay on Monday about the payments, which some said fueled corruption. They spoke privately because the CIA effort is classified.

Others were not so restrained. “We’ve all suspected it,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and a critic of the war effort in Afghanistan. “But for President Karzai to admit it out loud brings us into a bizarro world.”

Similar payments from Iran

Karzai’s comments, during a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, where he is traveling, were not without precedent. When it emerged in 2010 that one of his top aides was taking bags of cash from Iran, Karzai readily confirmed those reports and expressed gratitude for the money. Iran cut off its payments last year after Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership deal with the United States.

The CIA money continues to flow, Karzai said on Monday. “Yes, the office of national security has been receiving support from the United States for the past 10 years,” he said. “Not a big amount. A small amount, which has been used for various purposes.” He said the money was paid monthly.

Afghan officials who described the payments before Monday’s comments from Karzai said the cash was basically used as a slush fund, similarly to the way the Iranian money was. Some went to pay supporters; some went to cover other expenses that officials would prefer to keep off the books, like sensitive diplomatic trips, officials have said.

The CIA payments open a window to an element of the war that has often gone unnoticed: the agency’s use of cash to buy the loyalty of Afghans. The agency paid powerful warlords to fight against the Taliban during the 2001 invasion. It then continued paying Afghans to keep battling the Taliban and help track down the remnants of Al-Qaida. Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali, who was assassinated in 2011, was among those paid by the agency, for instance.

But the cash deliveries to Karzai’s office are of a different magnitude with far broader effect, helping the palace finance the vast patronage networks that Karzai has used to build his power base.

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