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US rules out releasing $3.5 billion in frozen Afghan funds

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Taliban militants celebrate the first anniversary of the group’s takeover of Kabul, on August 15, 2022.

The administration of US President Joe Biden does not plan to release billions of dollars in Afghan government assets held in the United States anytime soon.

“We do not see recapitalization of the D.A.B. as a near-term option,” said Thomas West, the American government’s special representative for Afghanistan, referring to the Afghan Central Bank.

“We do not have confidence that that institution has the safeguards and monitoring in place to manage assets responsibly,” West said in a statement.

He said American officials had abandoned the idea of releasing the money after it was revealed that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had been living in the heart of Kabul apparently with the protection of the Taliban until he was killed in a drone strike last month.

“And needless to say, the Taliban’s sheltering of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups,” he said.

Ned Price, the US State Department spokesman, earlier said that the US had no plans to release $3.5 billion in frozen funds to Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled Central Bank. “We don’t see recapitalization of the Afghan central bank as a near-term option.”

Biden has frozen the assets belonging to the Afghan Central Bank since the withdrawal of its occupation forces from the country in August 2021. Many US allies and Western governments have also largely suspended their financial assistance to Afghanistan since the US troop withdrawal and the Taliban takeover of the country.

In February, Afghanistan condemned a decision by the United States to seize billions of dollars in frozen Afghan funds to pay the claimants of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The White House had earlier announced that the US Treasury planned to block half of the $7-billion Afghan funds frozen in the US banks to distribute among the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Biden in February issued an executive order allocating half of the money for distribution to families of the victims.

Afghanistan’s Taliban administration has repeatedly called on foreign governments to roll back the sanctions imposed on Kabul and unfreeze the country’s central bank assets.

Afghan health experts have issued a stern warning about the dire healthcare situation in the country, exacerbated by a medicine shortage linked to the nation’s frozen assets in the United States. They say urgent action was needed to contain the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a measles outbreak in the country while citing acute malnutrition as another health problem requiring swift action.

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