KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that his national security team has been receiving payments from the U.S. government for the past 10 years.
Karzai confirmed the payments when he was asked about a story published in The New York Times saying the CIA had given the Afghan National Security Council tens of millions of dollars in monthly payments delivered in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags.
During a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, where he was on an official visit, Karzai said the welcome monthly payments were not a "big amount" but were a "small amount," although he did not disclose the sums. He said they were used to give assistance to the wounded and sick, to pay rent for housing and for other "operational" purposes.
He said the aid has been "very useful, and we are grateful for it."
The newspaper quotes Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai's deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005, as calling the vast CIA payments "ghost money" that "came in secret, and it left in secret." It also quotes unidentified American officials as saying that "the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington's exit strategy from Afghanistan."
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on the report, referring questions to the CIA, which also declined comment.
In 2010, Iran acknowledged that it had been sending funds to neighboring Afghanistan for years, but said the money was intended to aid reconstruction, not to buy influence in Karzai's office. The Afghan president confirmed he was receiving millions of dollars in cash from Iran and that Washington was giving him "bags of money," too, because his office lacked funds.
At the time, President Barack Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, denied that the U.S. government was in "the big bags of cash business," but former U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley had said earlier that some of the American aid to Afghanistan was in cash.
U.S. officials also asserted then that the money flowing from Tehran was proof that Iran was playing a double game in Afghanistan — wooing the government while helping Taliban insurgents fighting U.S. and NATO forces. Iran denied that.
AP writer Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed.