U.S. officials pressured Afghan President Hamid Karzai to remove a former warlord from atop the energy and water ministry a year ago because they considered him corrupt and ineffective, and threatened to end aid unless he went.
Karzai rebuffed the request, according to secret diplomatic records, and the minister -- privately termed "the worst" by U.S. officials -- kept his perch at an agency that controls $2 billion in U.S. and allied projects.
The State Department correspondence, written as Karzai was assembling a Cabinet shortly after his 2009 re-election, reveals just how little influence U.S. officials have over the Afghan leader on pressing issues such as corruption.
Reining in graft is seen as vital to Afghanistan's long-term stability. President Obama last month cited an urgent need for political and economic progress even as military successes have blunted the insurgency in some regions.
But U.S. aid to Afghanistan has continued despite the dispute over the former warlord, Ismail Khan, in December 2009.
U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry pressured Karzai to remove Khan, a once powerful mujahedeen commander, from the top of the energy and water ministry, according to two State Department reports written at the time by U.S. Embassy officials in Kabul. They were disclosed last month by WikiLeaks.
A Dec. 19, 2009, memorandum distributed internally under Eikenberry's name described Khan as "the worst of Karzai's choices" for Cabinet members. "This former warlord is known for his corruption and ineffectiveness at the energy ministry," the memo said.
Even with U.S. threats to withhold aid, Karzai rejected requests to replace Khan. "Our repeated interventions directly with Karzai did not overcome Karzai's deeply personal bonds with Khan," one of the reports said.
The U.S. diplomatic cables do not outline specific graft accusations against Khan, but detail several days of back and forth and consternation over Karzai's decision to keep him. U.S. officials have declined to comment on issues described in the WikiLeaks-released cables and criticized the group for making them public.