US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday to release $7 billion in frozen assets from Afghanistan to get money to organizations fighting a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis in the country, according to the Guardian

Around $3.5 billion will go to a fund that will distribute money to humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan; the rest will be split between groups representing the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, according to The New York Times

For months, humanitarian advocates have been urging the US government to release the funds and ease sanctions on Afghanistan to mitigate famine and an economy in freefall. Since October, the US government has made $782 million in humanitarian donations to support Afghans and Afghan refugees, but this latest move could have a much greater impact. 

The US had control of the $7 billion in assets, in the first place, due to a series of events in early to mid 2021. As the US wound down its military presence in the country, the Afghan government shifted the assets in question to the US Federal Reserve bank in New York for safe keeping. But the US-backed government collapsed as soon as the US military completed its withdrawal. The Taliban requested access to the funds, but the US refused, and proceeded to levy sanctions on the country.

When the Taliban took over, foreign aid and access to banking was cut off, and the country’s economy disintegrated, leading to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than half of the country’s population of 40 million are facing acute hunger this year and more than 1 million children could die as a result. 

Thousands of Afghans have been unable to access their bank accounts to pay for daily necessities. The lack of food and money in the country has gotten so bad that people are selling their organs to buy bread. The health care system is in disarray. More than a million Afghans have fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran to claim refugee status. Women and girls are facing the worst effects of this crisis. Many girl’s schools were closed, and opportunities for employment outside the home were shut down.

The Biden administration relied on highly technical maneuvers to wrest control of the $7 billion in assets and devise a plan for distributing part of the total through a trust fund to humanitarian groups, according to the New York Times. 

Economists point out that the measure could harm Afghanistan's central bank, because it strips it of key reserves that could be used to stabilize the economy and the country’s currency. Critics have blasted the plan for confiscating Afghan money at a time when they desperately need it. But even with the reserves, the country would have trouble stabilizing on its own without significant foreign aid.

When the US invaded in 2001 and toppled the Taliban, it initiated a rebuilding program that pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the country’s economy, propping up its government in the process. When that support was entirely removed last year, and instead replaced with sanctions, the effects were immediate and catastrophic. 

The sooner the $3.5 billion can be disbursed to humanitarian groups, the more lives will be saved. But in the months ahead, even more resources will have to be mobilized to protect the Afghan people from unfathomable suffering. 

Global Citizens can join this effort by taking these actions: calling for support for civil society groups in Afghanistan, and urging the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia to send foreign aid to the country. 


Defeat Poverty

Biden to Use $3.5 Billion in Frozen Afghan Assets for Humanitarian Relief

By Joe McCarthy