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Ahmed Wali Karzai Denies CIA Pay

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KABUL — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president, on Wednesday denied reports that he has received regular payments from the CIA for much of the past eight years.

The New York Times, citing current and former American officials, reported Tuesday that 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.

Karzai called the report "ridiculous."

"I work with the Americans, the Canadians, the British, anyone who asks for my help. They (CIA) do their own recruitment. I have no idea where they get their recruits. It's absolutely ridiculous," he told The Associated Press in Afghanistan.

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.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs refused to confirm, comment on or directly pass judgment on Karzai's relationship with the CIA, but suggested the Obama administration would not endorse that sort of arrangement.

"This administration is, as you know, conducting a comprehensive assessment as to where we are. And every participant in any meeting that's happened here as part of that assessment understands that we have to have and must have a partner that addresses governance issues as we move forward," Gibbs said Wednesday.

CIA spokesman George Little declined to comment on the newspaper report.

Critics say the ties with 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.

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, the Times reported. 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 newspaper said.

Karzai also helps the CIA communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban, the newspaper reported.

A congressional official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the story is accurate and said that some members of Congress have known about the relationship between Karzai and the CIA "for some time." The offical spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.

Afghans vote Nov. 7 in a runoff presidential election between Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah. The second round was ordered after U.N.-backed auditors threw out nearly a third of Karzai's votes from the Aug. 20 ballot, determining widespread fraud, and pushed Karzai's totals below the 50 percent threshold needed for a first-round victory.

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Associated Press writers Pamela Hess and Jennifer Loven in Washington contributed to this report.

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