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Biden signs executive order to try to free up frozen Afghan assets for aid

Afghans wait to receive food rations organized by the World Food Program (WFP) in Pul-e-Alam. The Biden administration is seeking to find a way to free up some frozen Afghan assets for aid.
Zubair Abassi
/
AP
Afghans wait to receive food rations organized by the World Food Program (WFP) in Pul-e-Alam. The Biden administration is seeking to find a way to free up some frozen Afghan assets for aid.

President Biden has signed an executive order aimed at taking the first steps to try to free up some $3.5 billion in frozen Afghan assets held in the U.S. to be used for humanitarian relief in Afghanistan.

But because the Taliban controls the country — and has been sanctioned as a terrorism organization — the U.S. government is looking to set up a third-party trust fund to administer and distribute the aid.

Some $7 billion in assets of the former Afghan central bank are frozen in U.S. banks. Some families of victims of the 9/11 attacks have sued to get damages from the funds.

The Biden administration says it wants to respect the lawsuits of the victims as well as the legal process, so it plans to allocate only half of the frozen assets to humanitarian aid.

The administration says a further court ruling will be needed to allow the transfer of the assets for humanitarian purposes, since families have obtained writs of attachment against the assets.

"This is one step forward in a process. No funds are going to be transferred until the court makes a ruling," a senior administration official said. "Some idea that we could just ignore the litigation in New York is just flatly wrong."

The administration cited Afghanistan's bleak economic challenges in justifying the order. It said even prior to last August's hectic withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country, Afghanistan faced poverty rates above 50%, international donor grants financed 75% of public expenditures and a 2-year-long drought had reduced many crops to 40% of their usual yields.

The $7 billion has been frozen since Afghanistan's central government collapsed, when the president and acting central bank governor fled the country. The U.S. Federal Reserve acted then to keep the money out of the hands of the Taliban.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.

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