WASHINGTON – Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the president of Afghanistan, gets regular payments from the CIA and has for much of the past eight years, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The newspaper said that according to current and former American officials, the CIA pays Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the CIA’s direction in and around Kandahar.
The CIA’s ties to Karzai, who is a suspected player in the country’s illegal opium trade, have created deep divisions within the Obama administration, the Times said.
Allegations that Karzai is involved in the drug trade have circulated in Kabul for months. He denies them.
The Times report came as U.S. deaths reached a single-month high in Afghanistan. Roadside bombs – the biggest killer of U.S. soldiers – claimed eight American lives Tuesday.
And on Monday, 14 Americans died in two helicopter crashes and brought the total number of U.S. service members killed during the month to at least 55.
Violence continued to unsettle Kabul, the Afghan capital, early today as gunmen attacked a guest house used by U.N. staff, killing at least seven people including three U.N. staff, officials said. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility.
With the sudden spate of casualties, the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan reached a record level for the third time in four months.
Tuesday’s roadside attacks again showed an inability to protect against the type of explosives that killed the most Americans in Iraq and are killing the most here, too. The rising toll in Afghanistan poses urgent problems for the Obama administration as it attempts to fashion a new war strategy.
Amid growing public disenchantment with the war, top military commanders have said they need thousands of reinforcements to beat back the resurgent Taliban, but President Barack Obama has said he does not want to rush a decision to send more troops. His advisers have in recent weeks debated the way forward in Afghanistan, while the military has conducted war games to test the effect of thousands of more troops.
Critics say the reported ties with Ahmed Wali Karzai complicate the United States’ increasingly tense relationship with his older brother, President Hamid Karzai. The CIA’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.
Some American officials argue that the reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai, a central figure in the south of the country where the Taliban is dominant, undermines the U.S. push to develop an effective central government that can maintain law and order and eventually allow the United States to withdraw.
“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan, was quoted by the Times in an article published on its Web site.
Ahmed Wali Karzai told the Times that he cooperates with American civilian and military officials but does not engage in the drug trade and does not receive payments from the CIA.
Karzai helps the CIA operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists, according to several American officials. Karzai also is paid for allowing the CIA and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city, which also is the base of the Kandahar Strike Force, the Times said.
Karzai also helps the CIA communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban, the newspaper reported.
CIA spokesman George Little declined to comment on the report.
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