The CIA has delivered tens of millions of dollars in cash packed in suitcases and backpacks to the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai for more than a decade, the New York Times reported Monday.
"We called it 'ghost money'," Khalil Roman, Karzai's deputy chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, told the Times. "It came in secret, and it left in secret."
The money was aimed at obtaining influence, but instead fueled rampant corruption, current and former officials told the newspaper.
"The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan," an unnamed US official told the newspaper, "was the United States."
The United States has long been known to funnel cash to supporters in Afghanistan, as it also did in Iraq. However the Times story is one of the first accounts that puts a figure on the amount of cash sent specifically to Karzai's office.
There appears to be no oversight over the secret CIA money, which is aimed at gaining influence by paying off warlords and politicians including some linked to the drug trade and even the Taliban, the Times reported.
Iran earlier made cash payments to one of Karzai's top aides, the Afghan president acknowledged in 2010. However the Iranians have stopped such payments and while the CIA payments continue, the Times reported.
Billions of dollars in aid have been pledged to help Afghanistan after NATO combat troops withdraw in 2014, but only on condition that corruption is brought under control.