US President Joe Biden signed an executive order to take control of $7 billion in Afghan funds currently held in New York, the White House announced on Friday.
The assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), will be used to benefit the Afghan people and will be subject to ongoing litigation by US victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“The administration will seek to facilitate access to $3.5 billion of those assets for the benefit of the Afghan people and for Afghanistan’s future pending a judicial decision,” said the White House in a statement.
In addition, many US victims of the 9/11 attacks, including relatives of victims, have brought claims against the Taliban and are pursuing the Afghan assets in federal court, said the statement.
“Even if funds are transferred for the benefit of the Afghan people, more than $3.5 billion in DAB assets would remain in the United States and are subject to ongoing litigation by US victims of terrorism. Plaintiffs will have a full opportunity to have their claims heard in court," the statement added.
The New York Times reported first the story that Biden would split the frozen funds between victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and funding humanitarian relief in Afghanistan.
Those funds have been sitting at Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) since the Afghan government fell to the Taliban in August. The Fed made the funds unavailable for withdrawal because it was unclear who had the authority to gain access to that account.
The Taliban claim the funds are theirs, but the US does not recognize them as the legitimate government in Afghanistan. The money includes assets such as currency, bonds, and gold.
The Taliban officials in Afghanistan have repeatedly demanded the release of the funds held in New York but it is illegal for Washington to engage in a financial transaction with the group under the existing sanctions.
In mid-January, the US announced more than $308 million in humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan, bringing total US humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and for Afghan refugees in the region to nearly $782 million since October 2021.
Afghanistan is facing one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises, according to the UN aid agencies. The UN and its partners launched a more than $5 billion funding appeal last month for Afghanistan.