U.S. President Joe Biden has signed an executive order that will free up some $7 billion in Afghan reserves that were frozen after the Taliban took control of the country in mid-August.
The United States will set up a trust fund in the coming months to place half the $7 billion into a humanitarian aid trust fund for distribution through groups providing relief to Afghans, a White House official said on February 11.
Biden's order addresses "the widespread humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan -- including the urgent needs of the people of Afghanistan for food security, livelihoods support, water, sanitation, health, hygiene, shelter and settlement assistance, and COVID-19-related assistance, among other basic human needs -- and the potential for a deepening economic collapse in Afghanistan," Biden said in a letter to House Speaker Nance Pelosi (Democrat-California).
The White House has come under pressure to release the funds to help Afghans, who are in the midst of an economic and financial crisis that has threatened more than half of the country's population with famine.
The White House statement said the order “is designed to provide a path for the funds to reach the people of Afghanistan, while keeping them out of the hands of the Taliban and malicious actors.”
Biden's order requires financial institutions to transfer Afghan Central Bank funds to a consolidated account at the New York Federal Reserve. U.S. officials say the overwhelming majority of frozen Afghan assets in the U.S. are proceeds of aid provided over two decades by U.S. and other donors.
Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem lashed out at the United States after Biden signed the order.
Naeem referred to the "theft and seizure" of money frozen by the United States, saying it "represents the lowest level of human and moral decay of a country and a nation."
Biden's order aims to resolve competing appeals for the money from a government in Kabul that the U.S. doesn't recognize and from families still scarred by the 2001 attacks. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, harbored Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks.
Brett Eagleson, whose father died in the attack on the World Trade Center, said that though victims' families support the distribution of a large portion of the funds to the Afghan people, the remaining funds should be distributed fairly among the families of those who died in the attacks.
“Anything short of equitable treatment for and among the 9/11 families as it relates to these frozen assets is outrageous and will be seen as a betrayal" by the government, Eagleson said in a statement quoted in U.S. media reports.
Taliban officials are holding talks this week in Geneva with international organizations on opening access to vital humanitarian aid which is being withheld as the de facto government in Kabul has yet to be recognized by any government around the world over concerns about human rights and freedoms.
Afghanistan has more than $9 billion in reserves, including just over $7 billion in reserves held in the United States. The remainder is mainly held in Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, and Qatar.