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Biden to split frozen Afghan funds for 9/11 victims, relief

WASHINGTON (AP)

President Joe Biden is expected to issue an executive order on Friday to move $7 billion of the Afghan central bank’s assets frozen in the US banking system to fund humanitarian relief in Afghanistan and compensate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a US official familiar with the decision.

The order will require US financial institutions to facilitate access to $3.5 billion of assets for Afghan relief and basic needs. The official said the other $3.5 billion would remain in the United States and be used to fund ongoing litigation by US victims of terrorism. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision had not been formally announced.

International funding to Afghanistan was suspended and billions of dollars of the country’s assets abroad, mainly in the United States, were frozen after the Taliban took control of the country in August.

The country’s long-troubled economy has been in a tailspin since the Taliban takeover. Nearly 80% of Afghanistan’s previous government’s budget came from the international community. That money, now cut off, financed hospitals, schools, factories and government ministries. Desperation for such necessities has been further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and health care shortages, drought and malnutrition.

The lack of funding has increased poverty, and aid groups have warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe. From doctors to teachers and administrative civil servants, state employees haven’t been paid in months. Banks, meanwhile, have restricted how much money account holders can withdraw.

The official noted that US courts where 9/11 victims have filed claims against the Taliban would also have to take action to compensate the victims.

Several months ago, the Justice Department had signaled that the Biden administration was poised to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed by 9/11 victims and families of victims in New York City by filing what’s known as a “statement of interest.” The deadline for that filing had been pushed back until Friday because the department said the administration needed to resolve “many complex and important” issues that required consultation with “numerous senior officials and executive agencies and components.”

The executive order is expected to be signed by Biden later on Friday. The New York Times first reported on the coming order.

The Taliban have called on the international community to release funds and help stave off a disaster humanitarian.

Afghanistan has over $9 billion in reserves, including just over $7 billion in reserves held in the United States. The rest is mainly in Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland.

The Taliban are sure to oppose the split.

As of January, the Taliban had managed to pay salaries of their ministries but were struggling to keep employees at work. They have promised to open schools for girls after the Afghan new year at the end of March, but humanitarian organizations are saying money is needed to pay teachers. Universities for women have reopened in several provinces. The Taliban say the staggered opening will be completed by the end of February when all universities for women and men will open, a significant concession to international demands.

In recent months, Afghans have been able to withdraw only $200 weekly in Afghanis, not in US currency. Afghanistan’s economy has teetered on the verge of collapse.

Under the previous US-backed government, 80% of Afghanistan’s economy was financed by international money. That evaporated when President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul on Aug. 15 and the government disappeared, leaving the door open for the Taliban to walk in.

Last month, the United Nations issued an appeal for nearly $5 billion, its largest-ever appeal for one country, predicting almost 90% of the country’s 38 million people were surviving below the poverty level of $1.90 a day. The UN also warned that upward of 1 million children risked starvation.

David Miliband head of the International Rescue Committee, the release of the funds to prevent famished at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the matter Wednesday.

“The humanitarian community did not choose the government, but that is no excuse to punish the people, and there is a middle course — to help the Afghan people without embracing the new government,” Miliband said.

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Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Eric Tucker and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed reporting.

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https://www.winknews.com/2022/02/11/biden-to-split-frozen-afghan-funds-for-9-11-victims-relief/ Biden to split frozen Afghan funds for 9/11 victims, relief

Tom Vazquez

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