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For more than a decade, American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency — have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president, according to a report in The New York Times.

Tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the CIA to the office of President Hamid Karzai, current and former advisers to the Afghan leader told the Times.

The CIA has long supported some relatives and close aides of Karzai, but the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a much larger scale, the paper noted.

Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the CIA sought, according to the report. Instead, some American officials told the Times, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.

“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

The U.S. was not alone in delivering cash to the president. Karzai acknowledged a few years ago that Iran regularly gave bags of cash to one of his top aides.

At the time, in 2010, American officials jumped on the payments as evidence of an aggressive Iranian campaign to buy influence and poison Afghanistan’s relations with the United States, the Times reported, adding that what was not said was that the CIA was also plying the presidential palace with cash — and unlike the Iranians, it still is.

It is not clear that the United States is getting what it pays for. Karzai’s willingness to defy the United States — and the Iranians, for that matter — on an array of issues seems to have grown. Instead of securing his good graces, the payments may well illustrate the opposite: Karzai is seemingly unable to be bought.

Over Iran’s objections, the Times wrote, Karzai signed a strategic partnership deal with the United States last year, directly leading the Iranians to halt their payments, citing two senior Afghan officials. Now he is seeking control over the Afghan militias raised by the CIA to target operatives of al-Qaida and insurgent commanders, potentially upending a critical part of the Obama administration’s plans for fighting militants as conventional military forces pull back this year.

The cash does not appear to be subject to the oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or even the CIA’s formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies, according to the Times. And while there is no evidence that Karzai has personally taken money — Afghan officials say the cash is handled by his National Security Council — the payments do in some cases work directly at odds with the aims of other parts of the American government in Afghanistan, even if they do not appear to violate American law.


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