By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
The C.I.A.’s station chief here met with President Hamid Karzai on Saturday, and the Afghan leader said he had been assured the agency would continue dropping off stacks of cash at his office despite a storm of criticism that has erupted since the payments were disclosed.
The C.I.A. money, Mr. Karzai told reporters, was “an easy source of petty cash,” and he suggested that some of it was used to pay off warlords and power brokers.
The use of the C.I.A. cash to pay those people has prompted criticism from many Afghans and some American and European officials who complain that the agency, in its quest to maintain access and influence at the presidential palace, financed what is essentially a presidential slush fund. The practice, the officials say, effectively undercut a pillar of the American war strategy: the building of a clean and credible Afghan government.
On Saturday, Mr. Karzai sought to dampen the furor over the payments, describing them as one facet of the billions of dollars in aid Afghanistan receives each year. “This is nothing unusual,” he said.
Mr. Karzai said the cash helped pay rent for various officials, treat wounded members of his presidential guard and even pay for scholarships. “It has helped us a lot, it has solved lots of our problems,” he said. “We appreciate it.”
The comments were his first in Kabul since The New York Times reported the payments last week, when he was traveling in Europe, where he briefly addressed the issue.
Yet Mr. Karzai, in offering his most detailed accounting to date of how the money had been used, probably raised as many questions as he answered.
Formal aid, for instance, is publicly accounted for and audited. The C.I.A’s cash is not, though Mr. Karzai did say the Americans were given receipts for the money they dropped off at the presidential palace.
Asked why money used for what would appear to be justifiable governing and charitable expenses was handed over secretly by the C.I.A. and not routed through the State Department, Mr. Karzai replied: “This is cash. It is the choice of the U.S. government.”
He added: “If tomorrow the State Department decides to give us such cash, I’d welcome that, too.”
Mr. Karzai declined to specify how much cash his office receives each month, or to provide a total of how much it has been given by the C.I.A. so far. He had met the agency’s station chief in Kabul a few hours earlier, he said, and it was made clear to him that “we are not allowed to disclose” the amount.