KABUL // The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, says his national security team has been receiving payments from the US government for 10 years.
Mr Karzai confirmed the payments yesterday when he was asked about a story published in The New York Times saying the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had given the Afghan National Security Council tens of millions of dollars in payments delivered in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags.
During a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, Mr Karzai said the welcome monthly payments 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. The CIA declined to comment on the newspaper report.
The so-called "ghost money" was meant to buy influence for the CIA but instead fuelled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington's exit strategy from Afghanistan, the newspaper quoted US officials as saying.
"The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan", one American official said, "was the United States."
"We called it 'ghost money'," said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr Karzai's chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. "It came in secret and it left in secret."
There was no evidence that Mr Karzai personally received any of the money, Afghan officials said. The cash was handled by his National Security Council, it added.
However, Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai told reporters in Kabul that there was no proof or evidence to back up the claims in the story.
US and Afghan officials said that the main goal in providing the cash was to maintain access to Mr Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the CIA's influence at the presidential palace.
* Additional reports from Reuters