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U.S. Will Not Release $3.5 Billion in Frozen Afghan Funds, Citing Terror Fears

The Biden administration on Monday ruled out $3.5 billion in funds held in the United States from being returned to Afghanistan’s central bank any time soon, citing the discovery that the Al-Qaeda leader had sought refuge in the heart of Kabul, apparently with the protection of the Taliban government.

The stance on the funds was outlined on the one-year anniversary of the extremist Taliban militia’s takeover of Afghanistan and just over two weeks after a US drone attack tied up Ayman al-Zawahri, the Qaeda leader, on the balcony of a house killed. to a faction of the Taliban coalition in an exclusive enclave of the Afghan capital.

“We don’t see DAB recapitalization as a short-term option,” said Thomas West, the US government’s special representative for Afghanistan, referring to the central bank’s initials. He noted that US officials have spent months talking with the central bank about how to support the Afghan economy, but have not received convincing guarantees that the money would not fall into the hands of terrorists.

“We are not confident that that institution has the safeguards and monitoring to manage assets responsibly,” Mr West said in a statement. previously reported by The Wall Street Journal. “And needless to say, the Taliban’s reception of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri reinforces the deep concern we have about funneling funds to terrorist groups.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the government was looking for alternative ways to use the money to help Afghans at a time when millions are ravaged by a growing hunger crisis.

“Right now we are looking at mechanisms that can be put in place to ensure that these $3.5 billion in held assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan in a way that does not predispose them to distraction. terrorist groups or elsewhere,” Mr Price said.

The frozen money issue remains one of the most sensitive issues a year after President Biden’s decision to withdraw the last US troops from Afghanistan, which led to the fall of the Western-backed government and the return of the Taliban to power. The White House has been very sensitive to the approach of the anniversary, expecting it to renew criticism of the chaotic US withdrawal and the restoration of a draconian regime of repression, especially targeting women and girls.

The operation in which al-Zawahri was found and killed has only sharpened the debate in recent days. Biden and his allies have argued that success in the hunt for al-Zawahri has shown that the United States can still fight terrorists without a major deployment of ground forces. His critics have pointed to the operation as evidence of the recklessness of Mr. Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, as it showed that the Taliban is once again harboring Qaeda figures as they were in the months and years before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has said al-Zawahri’s presence showed that the Taliban had “grossly violated” the withdrawal agreement first negotiated by President Donald J. Trump and implemented by Mr. Biden. But the government has not explained what the possible consequences are for the Taliban. The Taliban has denied knowing that al-Zawahri was in Kabul. lived with his family, although the Haqqani clan, a terrorist faction of the government, appeared to protect him.

US intelligence officials have concluded since the drone strike that while a handful of longtime members of al-Qaeda remain in Afghanistan, the group has not re-established a large presence there since the US withdrawal. But some counterterrorism experts said the verdict may have been too optimistic.

The funds at stake on Monday are part of a total of $7 billion that the Afghan central bank deposited at the time of the Taliban takeover to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Mr Biden froze the money and decided to split it in half, with one portion available for the relatives of the 9/11 victims to legally prosecute and the other to use to support the needs of the Afghan people, such as for humanitarian help.

The United States is working with allies around the world to establish an international trust fund with the $3.5 billion intended to help the Afghan people. Officials said they have made significant progress in setting up such a trust fund, but have not said when it will be established and how it will operate.

The Afghan economy has collapsed in the year since the Taliban takeover, leading to mass famine and a wave of refugees. In recent days, the United States announced that it would send $80 million to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to help fight hunger in Afghanistan, as well as $40 million to UNICEF to support the education of Afghan children, especially girls. , and send $30 million to the UN. Women help Afghan women and girls seeking social protection and leading civil society organisations.

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