President Biden is facing growing pressure to release billions in Afghan government bank reserves to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
After the Taliban takeover, the US froze about $9 billion in Afghan funds and still maintains sanctions on Taliban leaders. The UN has warned millions are facing food shortages in Afghanistan and about 8.7 million Afghans are “nearing famine.”
On Monday, more than 40 House Democrats penned a letter to Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to unfreeze the Afghan funds. The lawmakers explained how withholding money that belongs to Afghanistan’s central bank has damaged the economy.
“The US confiscation of $9.4 billion in Afghanistan’s currency reserves held in the United States is contributing to soaring inflation and the shuttering of commercial banks and vital private businesses, plunging the country — which relies overwhelmingly on imports that require hard currency — deeper into economic and humanitarian crisis,” the letter reads.
Highlighting how dire the situation is, the lawmakers warned more Afghans could die of food shortages than were killed during 20 years of war. “We fear, as aid groups do, that maintaining this policy could cause more civilian deaths in the coming year than were lost in 20 years of war,” the letter reads.
The Biden administration is trying to use the frozen reserves as leverage over the new Taliban-led Afghan government. But as history shows, sanctions and other economic pressure do little to change the government in the target country and almost always hurt the most vulnerable of the civilian population. UNICEF has warned 1 million children in Afghanistan could die from “severe acute malnutrition.”