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EXCLUSIVE: US, NATO behind 'insecurity' in Afghanistan, Karzai says

Watch Atia Abawi's full, exclusive interview with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in which he discusses the "growing perception" that insecurity in the region is caused by the United States and some of its allies who "promoted lawlessness" and "corruption" in Afghanistan.

Updated at 9:43 a.m. ET: KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai sharply criticized the United States in an exclusive interview with NBC News on Thursday, blaming American and NATO forces for some of the growing insecurity in his country. 

"Part of the insecurity is coming to us from the structures that NATO and America created in Afghanistan," Karzai said during a one-on-one interview at the presidential palace. However, he also acknowledged that much of the country's violence was caused by insurgent groups. 


The Taliban are regaining land and power lost after they were toppled by U.S.-backed forces in 2001. Meanwhile, Karzai has gone from being a favorite of Washington under the presidency of George W. Bush, to a thorn in the White House's side with his criticism of American night raids and mounting civilian casualties at the hands of NATO troops. Many in Washington have also grown weary of Karzai, viewing him as ineffective and presiding over a deeply corrupt government.

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Karzai, who is serving his second five-year term, also told NBC News that he had sent a letter to President Barack Obama saying that Afghanistan would not sign any new security agreements with the United States until hundreds of prisoners held in U.S. custody were transferred to Afghan authorities.

His criticism of the United States, Afghanistan's most important ally, has come after the start of complex bilateral talks on a security pact on the role the United States would play after most of its troops are withdrawn by the end of 2014.

Karzai said the inmates in American detention in Afghanistan were being held in breach of an agreement he and Obama signed in March and must be handed over immediately.   

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More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.

"We signed the strategic partnership agreement with the expectation and the hope ... the nature of the United States' activities in Afghanistan will change," Karzai said.  But American behavior had not changed, he said, adding that terrorism would not be defeated "by attacking Afghan villages and Afghan homes."

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The dispute between the two countries centers around Bagram Air Base and a nearby detention facility, which have long been seen as a symbol of American impunity and disrespect by many Afghans. 

"I have written to President Obama that the Afghan people will not allow its government to enter into a security agreement, while the United States continues to violate Afghan sovereignty and Afghan loss," he said.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai had harsh words for the U.S. during an exclusive interview with NBC's Atia Abawi.

During the interview, Karzai also said that he didn't think al-Qaida "has a presence in Afghanistan."

He added: "I don’t even know if al-Qaida exists as an organization as it is being spoken about. So all we know is that we have insecurity."

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In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States led the invasion to topple the Taliban, which was harboring al-Qaida and its then-leader, Osama bin Laden. While weakened, especially after the death of bin Laden at the hands of U.S. special forces in Pakistan in 2011, al-Qaida is still thought to have strong links with the Taliban and other Afghan insurgents.

Karzai said Afghans were thankful to foreign forces for being "liberated" in 2001, but complained that since then his countrymen had suffered the most in the fight against extremism.

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"In the name of the war on terror the Afghan people have paid the greatest price of any.  That has not been recognized," he said.

While there have been more than 2,000 American military casualties since the invasion of Afghanistan, civilians have borne the brunt of the violence.  In the first six months of 2012 alone, more than 3,000 civilians were killed or injured, according the United Nations.  This number was down 15 percent from a year earlier. Anti-government and coalition insurgents were responsible for 80 percent of the civilian casualties, the U.N. says.

Karzai also addressed the issue of graft during the interview, saying there was "no doubt that there is corruption in Afghanistan." 

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In an exclusive interview with NBC's Atia Abawi, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai says that the U.S. is not sticking to a signed agreement between their two countries.

"The bigger corruption is the corruption in contracts," he added. "The contracts are not issued by the Afghan government.  The contracts are issued by the international community, mainly by the United States."

In 2010, the country received $6.4 billion in official development assistance, representing more than 40 percent of its gross domestic product, according to humanitarian news site AlertNet. Two-thirds of the funds aren't channeled through the government because of concerns about corruption and the government's ability to use the money properly, AlertNet added.

Afghanistan is tied with Somalia and North Korea at the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2012. A 2012 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report estimated that Afghans paid $2.5 billion in bribes over 12 months, which is equivalent to almost a quarter of the country’s GDP.

Kevin Frayer / AP

In southern Afghanistan, the focus of the U.S. war effort, nearly all the Afghan soldiers are foreigners too. Photographer Kevin Frayer shows these soldiers in a series of portraits.

The international community had fostered graft to keep the Afghan state weak, Karzai said.

"I've come to believe (that) ... corruption comes from the United States through contracts and through the corruption in both systems," he said, adding that the "perception of corruption is deliberate to render the Afghan government exploitable, to weaken it," he said. "This is something that I have began to believe in firmly now after the experiences that I've gained in ... working on this issue."

NBC News' F. Brinley Bruton and Kiko Itasaka contributed to this report.

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