British military intervention in Afghanistan has a chequered history, making it easy to conclude that British forces will fail again
CIA: Buying peace in Afghanistan?
As a report reveals millions of dollars were paid to warlords, we ask if it is 'business as usual' for the agency.
The United States of America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gave tens of millions of dollars in cash to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in an attempt to win influence.
Karzai has confirmed that his office received cash from the CIA over the past decade.
A detailed report in The New York Times has revealed tens of millions of dollars were handed over to Karzai, with wads of cash stuffed into suitcases, backpacks, even shopping bags.
The report says the CIA cash was then given to Afghan warlords in an attempt to secure stability before international troops pull out of Afghanistan next year.
Afghanistan's problems with corruption have been well documented, but an official says the cash was the biggest source of corruption in the country.
So, is it all just business as usual for the CIA?
Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests Matthew Rosenberg, The New York Times correspondent who authored that report; and Glenn Carle, a former CIA officer who spent 23 years at the agency's Clandestine Services.
With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan
The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.
All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.
“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”
The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.
Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, 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 United States was not alone in delivering cash to the president. Mr. 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. What they did not say was that the C.I.A. was also plying the presidential palace with cash — and unlike the Iranians, it still is.
American and Afghan officials familiar with the payments said the agency’s main goal in providing the cash has been to maintain access to Mr. Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the agency’s influence at the presidential palace, which wields tremendous power in Afghanistan’s highly centralized government. The officials spoke about the money only on the condition of anonymity.
It is not clear that the United States is getting what it pays for. Mr. Karzai’s willingness to defy the United States — and the Iranians, for that matter — on an array of issues seems to have only grown as the cash has piled up. Instead of securing his good graces, the payments may well illustrate the opposite: Mr. Karzai is seemingly unable to be bought.
Over Iran’s objections, he signed a strategic partnership deal with the United States last year, directly leading the Iranians to halt their payments, two senior Afghan officials said. Now, Mr. Karzai is seeking control over the Afghan militias raised by the C.I.A. to target operatives of Al Qaeda 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.
But the C.I.A. has continued to pay, believing it needs Mr. Karzai’s ear to run its clandestine war against Al Qaeda and its allies, according to American and Afghan officials.
Like the Iranian cash, much of the C.I.A.’s money goes to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban. The result, American and Afghan officials said, is that the agency has greased the wheels of the same patronage networks that American diplomats and law enforcement agents have struggled unsuccessfully to dismantle, leaving the government in the grips of what are basically organized crime syndicates.
The cash does not appear to be subject to the oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or even the C.I.A.’s formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies. And while there is no evidence that Mr. Karzai has personally taken any of the 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.
Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan since the start of the war. During the 2001 invasion, agency cash bought the services of numerous warlords, including Muhammad Qasim Fahim, the current first vice president.
“We paid them to overthrow the Taliban,” the American official said.
The C.I.A. then kept paying the Afghans to keep fighting. For instance, Mr. Karzai’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was paid by the C.I.A. to run the Kandahar Strike Force, a militia used by the agency to combat militants, until his assassination in 2011.
A number of senior officials on the Afghan National Security Council are also individually on the agency’s payroll, Afghan officials said.
While intelligence agencies often pay foreign officials to provide information, dropping off bags of cash at a foreign leader’s office to curry favor is a more unusual arrangement.
Afghan officials said the practice grew out of the unique circumstances in Afghanistan, where the United States built the government that Mr. Karzai runs. To accomplish that task, it had to bring to heel many of the warlords the C.I.A. had paid during and after the 2001 invasion.
By late 2002, Mr. Karzai and his aides were pressing for the payments to be routed through the president’s office, allowing him to buy the warlords’ loyalty, a former adviser to Mr. Karzai said.
Then, in December 2002, Iranians showed up at the palace in a sport utility vehicle packed with cash, the former adviser said.
The C.I.A. began dropping off cash at the palace the following month, and the sums grew from there, Afghan officials said.
Payments ordinarily range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, the officials said, though none could provide exact figures. The money is used to cover a slew of off-the-books expenses, like paying off lawmakers or underwriting delicate diplomatic trips or informal negotiations.
Much of it also still goes to keeping old warlords in line. One is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek whose militia served as a C.I.A. proxy force in 2001. He receives nearly $100,000 a month from the palace, two Afghan officials said. Other officials said the amount was significantly lower.
Mr. Dostum, who declined requests for comment, had previously said he was given $80,000 a month to serve as Mr. Karzai’s emissary in northern Afghanistan. “I asked for a year up front in cash so that I could build my dream house,” he was quoted as saying in a 2009 interview with Time magazine.
Some of the cash also probably ends up in the pockets of the Karzai aides who handle it, Afghan and Western officials said, though they would not identify any by name.
That is not a significant concern for the C.I.A., said American officials familiar with the agency’s operations. “They’ll work with criminals if they think they have to,” one American former official said.
Interestingly, the cash from Tehran appears to have been handled with greater transparency than the dollars from the C.I.A., Afghan officials said. The Iranian payments were routed through Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff. Some of the money was deposited in an account in the president’s name at a state-run bank, and some was kept at the palace. The sum delivered would then be announced at the next cabinet meeting. The Iranians gave $3 million to well over $10 million a year, Afghan officials said.
When word of the Iranian cash leaked out in October 2010, Mr. Karzai told reporters that he was grateful for it. He then added: “The United States is doing the same thing. They are providing cash to some of our offices.”
At the time, Mr. Karzai’s aides said he was referring to the billions in formal aid the United States gives. But the former adviser said in a recent interview that the president was in fact referring to the C.I.A.’s bags of cash.
No one mentions the agency’s money at cabinet meetings. It is handled by a small clique at the National Security Council, including its administrative chief, Mohammed Zia Salehi, Afghan officials said.
Mr. Salehi, though, is better known for being arrested in 2010 in connection with a sprawling, American-led investigation that tied together Afghan cash smuggling, Taliban finances and the opium trade. Mr. Karzai had him released within hours, and the C.I.A. then helped persuade the Obama administration to back off its anticorruption push, American officials said.
After his release, Mr. Salehi jokingly came up with a motto that succinctly summed up America’s conflicting priorities. He was, he began telling colleagues, “an enemy of the F.B.I., and a hero to the C.I.A.”
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.
CIA Ghost Money: Karzai Confirms U.S. Gives Funds To Afghan National Security Team
The Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan -- 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.
What the CIA’s cash has bought for Afghanistan
The report Monday that the CIA regularly hands over sacks filled with hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is only the latest episode in Afghanistan’s long and tragic encounter with US imperialism.
According to the New York Times, “For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month at the offices of the president.”
Following their White House meeting earlier this year, President Barack Obama and Karzai issued a joint statement declaring their intention to maintain US military forces in Afghanistan into the indefinite future under a Strategic Partnership Agreement. The two also proclaimed their respect for Afghan “sovereignty” and stated that their economic strategy for the country was “focused on investing in its human capital to lead the country’s institutions and to create an enabling environment for inclusive economic growth and investment.”
As the revelations about suitcases stuffed with American dollars make clear, the US has invested heavily in “human capital to lead the country’s institutions” and without a doubt has created an “enabling environment” for a collection of CIA stooges, warlords, drug traffickers and murderers to pillage Afghanistan and terrorize its people, while filling their bank accounts with money from Washington.
The same criminal methods employed by the Bush White House have been carried over lock, stock and barrel into the Obama administration.
But the CIA spigot has been open for much longer than that. The multi-million-dollar payoffs go back to the late 1970s, when the Democratic administration of President Jimmy Carter adopted a strategy of ensnaring the Soviet Union in “its own Vietnam” by fomenting and financing an Islamist insurgency against a Soviet-backed government in Kabul.
Working on the CIA payroll at the time was a young Hamid Karzai, who served as a go-between for the American intelligence agency, the Pakistani ISI and the mujahideen. At the time, he no doubt rubbed shoulders with Osama bin Laden, who was serving in a similar capacity.
In the wake of the Soviet withdrawal, the forces backed by the CIA carried out a protracted civil war that ended with the coming to power of the Pakistani-backed Taliban in 1996. This war was resumed under CIA auspices when Washington used the September 11, 2001 attacks as the pretext for invading and occupying Afghanistan. The agency began handing out suitcases full of cash once again to the Afghan warlords to contract their services as proxy troops in the US war for regime change.
Traveling in northern Europe on another money-gathering trip, Karzai made the improbable claim that the CIA cash wasn’t really that much and was being spent on “providing assistance to the wounded, the sick.”
In reality, whatever doesn’t go into the pockets and off-shore accounts of the Karzai family and its immediate periphery is still being used to pay off the warlords, including war criminals like Abdul Rashid Dostum, who, while on the CIA payroll, organized the massacre of thousands of Taliban prisoners near Mazar-i-Sharif in 2001. According to some reports, he alone has received up to $100,000 a month.
Until his assassination in 2011, the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was also on the CIA payroll, running a death squad known as the Kandahar Strike Force while playing a pivotal role in Afghanistan’s multi-billion-dollar heroin trade.
Also getting a share of the cash is the chief of Karzai’s National Security Council, Mohammed Zia Salehi, who was arrested in 2010 after a US-led investigation implicated him in smuggling money out of the country, heroin trafficking and the financing of the Taliban. Karzai and the CIA intervened, forcing his release within hours and terminating the investigation.
To keep this puppet regime of killers, drug dealers and kleptocrats in power, the US has waged the longest war in its history, claiming the lives of some 2,200 American and 1,000 other foreign occupation troops, while leaving tens of thousands suffering grievous wounds, both physical and mental. The cost of the war, CIA cash not included, reached some $60 billion a year in 2009.
For the Afghan people, the number of dead and wounded number in the millions since the CIA first began organizing military operations in the country nearly 35 years ago.
The huge amounts of money poured into the criminal US operations in Afghanistan have done nothing to aid the Afghan people. According to some estimates, ninety cents out of every dollar in the $20 billion in foreign aid spent there over the past decade has been lost to corruption.
More than half of the country’s families live in extreme poverty, while over one third suffer from hunger. One out of ten Afghan children die before they start primary school. Less than a quarter of the population has access to clean drinking water and a similar fraction among those over the age of 15 is able to read and write.
The slaughter of Afghan civilians continues on a daily basis. On Sunday, Karzai’s office issued a formal protest over the fatal shooting of four civilians by a US military convoy in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Earlier this month, a NATO air strike killed eleven children, aged between two months and seven years, in Kunar province near the border with Pakistan.
While a formal deadline for the withdrawal of foreign occupation troops has been set for the end of 2014, the Obama administration has no intention of ending the US military presence. Plans are being prepared to leave anywhere between 6,000 and 20,000 US troops behind to continue killing those who resist the rule of Karzai and his criminal clique.
This regime, installed against the will of the Afghan people, is a tool of a financial oligarchy in the US that is determined to advance its interests by militarily asserting its hegemony over Central Asia and its strategic energy reserves, while leaving working people in both Afghanistan and the US to pay the price.
Afghan President Says CIA Cash Payments Were Small And Legit
Afghan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged on Monday that for the past decade or more, his office has been receiving secret cash payments from the CIA, but that it's only small amounts used for "operational" purposes.
The Associated Press reports that during a news conference, Karzai, on an official visit to Helsinki, Finland, said the monthly payments were not a "big amount" and were used to give assistance to the sick and wounded, pay rent for housing and for other "operational" purposes.
The secret U.S. aid has been "very useful, and we are grateful for it," Karzai said.
The Afghan leader's remarks come in response to a New York Times report Sunday that on a monthly basis, "wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags" were deposited at Karzai's offices.
The Times quoted former Afghan officials who said the regular off-the-books payments were known by Karzai officials as "ghost money."
The newspaper says that while the CIA had been known for years to support some relatives and close aides of Karzai:
" ... the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.
"Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the CIA sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington's exit strategy from Afghanistan."