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Head Of U.S. Watchdog Worried About UN Cash Flowing Into Afghanistan


U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko (file photo)

The head of a U.S. government watchdog says he is concerned that money sent by the United Nations to Afghanistan for humanitarian and economic aid will end up in the hands of the Taliban government.

In a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, John Sopko, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said his organization has concerns over the funds but since it has no presence inside the country, it will have to rely on the UN to ensure no money goes to the Taliban.

Afghanistan, one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world, faced an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and a collapsing economy after the Taliban seized power in August. Instead of resolving the unfolding problems, the Islamists focused on reestablishing hard-line governance by recreating their brutal regime that forced millions to flee Afghanistan in the 1990s.

This prompted the UN to embark on a new approach by directly injecting cash aid into the economy this year.

In late April, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told journalists that the United Nations had flown $500 million in cash into Afghanistan.

That amount has since grown, with officials at the Da Afghanistan Bank, the country's central bank, saying last month that the international community had in total delivered $760 million in cash to help the struggling country.

The UN typically used to deliver some $32 million to the country on a weekly basis.

"We have been talking to the UN officials about how they are safeguarding [those] funds," he said in the interview.

"We have had discussions on best practices for protecting it...We are hoping it's protected but it’s more difficult to ensure that since we at SIGAR have no presence in Afghanistan," he added.

The United States and other foreign donors have continued to withhold most of their financial assistance to Afghanistan fearing that, if the Taliban were to receive those funds, it would reward and legitimize a regime that took power by force and has committed gross human rights violations.

"We recognize that humanitarian aid is not enough," Sopko said, adding that in the absence of a cash infusion, the collapse of the economy could have "devastating consequences for the people of Afghanistan."

Saber Momand, a spokesman for the central bank added that "this aid preserves the value of the afghani [currency]."

Speaking about the latest SIGAR report, Sopko said that its findings show that former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled with less than half a million dollars as he left the country in a helicopter fleet on August 15, dispelling rumors that he took as much as $169 million out of the country.

"The helicopters, the way they are configured, they couldn't have carried a bulk amount of cash," he said.

"You've to realize that 169 million dollars in one hundred dollar bills would be equal to about two tons," Sopko added.

In a previous interim report on the rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces last month, SIGAR blamed Washington's peace deal with the Taliban.

Sopko said the main reason behind the collapse was that President Joe Biden's administration implemented the initial peace agreement President Donald Trump signed with the Taliban in February 2020.

Under the agreement signed in the Qatari capital Doha, Washington agreed to withdraw all its troops in return for the Taliban counterterrorism guarantees and peace talks with the pro-Western government.

"That was basically the death knell to the ability or willingness of a lot of the soldiers and the police to continue fighting," he said.

With contributions from RFE/RL's Abubakar Siddique

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