The Biden administration on Wednesday loosened some restrictions on transactions with the Taliban for US and UN officials to allow more aid to enter Afghanistan, but about $9 billion in Afghan government reserves remain frozen.
The Treasury Department issued three licenses of exemption from US sanctions. Two licenses allow the US and UN to engage in transactions with the Taliban. The third license gives some NGOs immunity from US sanctions for humanitarian dealings with the Taliban.
The exemptions are a response to the growing pressure for the Biden administration to release the frozen Afghan reserves that the US seized after the Taliban took Kabul as millions of Afghans are facing starvation in the wake of the 20-year US war.
The situation in Afghanistan is so dire that the UN has warned 1 million Afghan children could starve to death over the next year. Sanctions exemptions are clearly not enough to stave off the crisis, and the UN and aid groups are urging the US to release the frozen reserves.
On Tuesday, protesters in Kabul marched towards the now-shuttered US embassy, calling for the release of the frozen funds. The demonstrators carried signs reading “Let us eat” and “Give us our frozen money.”
On Monday, over 40 House Democrats sent a letter to President Biden asking him to release the Afghan money. “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 lawmakers said.