Corker blocks Afghan war funds over CIA 'ghost money' program

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is blocking millions in State Department funds for Afghanistan, until President Obama discloses details abut the CIA's decade-long effort to funnel cash to Afghan leaders, including President Hamid Karzai.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations panel has put a hold on $75 million in government aid to Kabul “until such time as I receive sufficient information" on the CIA program, Corker said Monday. 

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"The administration’s lack of any response to these requests, its apparent decision to flout the Foreign Relations Committee’s oversight, and its inability or unwillingness to explain such a policy is unacceptable," the Tennessee Republican wrote. 

The State Department funds being fenced off by Corker are to help finance the upcoming presidential election in Afghanistan, set for April 2014. 

That is also the date when the final tranche of U.S. troops will leave the country, officially ending the American war in the country. 

"I have repeatedly requested briefings and additional information on the nature and effect of this policy," Corker said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. 

The funding block comes a month after Corker demanded answers on the CIA's so-called "ghost money" program in Afghanistan. 

Since the beginning of U.S. operations in the country in 2001, agency officials have handed over millions in cash payments to Karzai and other top Afghan officials. 

The payments — delivered and accepted in secret as part of a deal between Langley and Kabul — were reportedly sent clandestinely to Afghan officials over the past decade via suitcases, backpacks and shopping bags. 

Karzai admitted to taking the agency money back in April, saying the funds were used by national security officials to pay for "operational" costs associated with building up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). 

However, Corker and others on Capitol Hill claim the CIA finds have reportedly fueled the rampant corruption and fraud that has plagued Karzai's government since the war began. 

"I [have] highlighted the incoherence of a policy that at once seeks to root out corruption and establish the rule of law, while at the same time funneling secret cash payments to the president," Corker said of the program on Monday. 

"As a consequence, I have determined that the further commitment of taxpayer funds at this time toward such an incoherent governance strategy would not be in our national interest," he added. 

Corker's comments come just as American and Afghan leaders are preparing to hand over full control of security operations to the ANSF. 

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top American commander in Afghanistan, is expected to announce the official handover during a scheduled press conference from U.S. and NATO headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday. 

Top U.S. military leaders have already begun coordinating that postwar plan with NATO. 

The United States, Germany and Italy committed to serve as “lead nations” for the training mission, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said after the conclusion of a June meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.

The U.S. military will be the largest contributor, taking the lead in the more volatile eastern and southern regions. Germany and Italy will serve as lead nations in the west and north.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the new mission will be primarily focused on training and will be significantly smaller than the force currently in Afghanistan.

“We're transitioning, not leaving,” Hagel added during a press conference in Brussels earlier this month. 

Roughly 66,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan, with half of those forces scheduled to withdraw from the country this spring.

The White House and Pentagon reportedly considered a postwar U.S. force ranging between 8,000-12,000 troops to remain in a non-combat role after 2014.