Monday marked one year since the Taliban entered Kabul and the now defunct US-backed Afghan government officially collapsed. There has been drastically less violence in the country since the US troops left, but Afghans are now facing a dire humanitarian crisis that is being exacerbated by US sanctions and Washington’s seizure of Afghan central bank funds.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the Biden administration has decided not to release any of the $7 billion in Afghan central bank reserves that are held in the US as millions of Afghans are facing starvation. The administration also suspended talks with the Taliban on the funds.
US officials said the administration made the decisions over the recent operation against al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul. President Biden recently announced that a CIA drone strike killed Zawahiri in the Afghan capital, although the US has no DNA evidence that it was Zawahiri who was killed. The Taliban said a drone strike took place, but haven’t confirmed that it was Zawahiri who was targeted.
The US views Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul as the Taliban violating the Doha agreement and suspended talks on the central bank reserves in response. “We do not see recapitalization of the Afghan central bank as a near-term option,” said Tom West, the US special envoy for Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, President Biden said he would make half of the $7 billion in central bank reserves available for families of 9/11 victims even though the people of Afghanistan had nothing to do with the attacks. He said the other half would be made set up in a trust fund to be used for humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, but now that option is off the table, and none of the funds will be used to help Afghans.
The UN has warned that a staggering 95% of Afghans are not getting enough to eat and that nearly one-half of the population is facing acute hunger. A UN official said in March that the situation threatens an “entire generation of Afghans.”
On top of the frozen central bank reserves, the US still maintains sanctions on the Taliban, who now lead the Afghan government. The sanctions discourage international banks and businesses from making transactions with Afghanistan, making the situation even worse.
In June, after an earthquake killed over 1,000 people in Afghanistan, the UN said US sanctions were hampering the relief effort. Martin Griffiths, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan is complicating humanitarian aid deliveries because of “excessive” diligence from international financial systems that want to make sure they don’t violate sanctions.