“What could we do? It was U.S. money coming here and used by them and used for means that did not help Afghanistan,” Karzai, who served as president of Afghanistan from 2004 to 2014, told the Associated Press in an interview in Kabul.
The Post’s reporting is based on a trove of confidential government interviews obtained after a lengthy legal battle. The interviews, which took place between 2014 and 2018, were conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, known as SIGAR.
In the interviews, key actors in Afghanistan, including many U.S. officials, spoke at length about missteps in the now 18-year war. Some said the United States regularly allied with corrupt actors in Afghanistan and actively fueled widespread graft, providing cash to win over parties they saw as necessary allies, including Afghan warlords.
Christopher Kolenda, a retired Army colonel and former adviser to multiple U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, told government interviewers in 2016 that by 2006, the Afghan government “self-organized into a kleptocracy,” The Post reported this week.
“The kleptocracy got stronger over time, to the point that the priority of the Afghan government became not good governance but sustaining this kleptocracy,” he said in the government interview. “It was through sheer naivete, and maybe carelessness, that we helped to create the system.”
One unidentified former senior U.S. official told government interviewers in 2015 that U.S. money was “empowering a lot of bad people.”
“There was massive resentment among the Afghan people,” the official said. “And we were the most corrupt here, so had no credibility on the corruption issue.”
Several of the interviews mentioned Karzai, and the AP reported that the former Afghan president “has denied wrongdoing but hasn’t denied involvement in corruption by officials in his government.”
Barnett Rubin, a senior adviser to the former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said in a 2015 interview that “Holbrooke hated Hamid Karzai.”
“He thought he was corrupt as hell,” Rubin said.
Karzai held on to power in 2009 after an election his opponents and observers said was mired in fraud. As The Post reported, a U.N.-backed panel later determined that about 1 million of Karzai’s votes were illegal. But Washington helped broker a deal that ultimately kept Karzai in power for another term.
Sarah Chayes, a former civilian adviser to the U.S. military, said in a May 2015 interview with SIGAR released by The Post this week that it was “devastating that we were willing to patch up the elections” after widespread claims of ballot stuffing.
“While we had the opportunity to say that corruption is important, explicit instructions were given that it is not,” she said.
The next year, it emerged that Kabul Bank had issued around $1 billion in fraudulent loans. Some loans had been handed out to people connected to the most powerful politicians in Afghanistan, such as Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, and the family of then-first vice president Mohammed Fahim.
Some of those who spoke to government interviewers said the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, backed off the issue to avoid alienating Karzai. Crocker told government interviewers in 2016 that he was “struck” by Karzai’s suggestion that the West “had a significant responsibility to bear for the whole corruption issue.”
“I always thought Karzai had a point, that you just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society, and not have it fuel corruption,” he said.
In the interview with the AP, Karzai accused Washington of using corruption as a “tool” to implement its agenda in Afghanistan and said he is “glad this report is out.”
“I hope this becomes an eye-opener to the American people and that the U.S. government begins to change its attitude now toward Afghanistan,” he said.