Middle East

US sets up fund that could transfer frozen billions to Afghanistan if conditions are met

By Kylie Atwood, CNN

Washington CNN — The Biden administration has worked with Switzerland and Afghan economists to set up a new fund that could eventually serve as a mechanism to put billions of dollars in frozen Afghan money to use to promote economic stability in the country, according to two senior US officials.

The US is moving $3.5 billion to the new “Afghan Fund,” but officials said they won’t release the money imminently because there is no trusted institution in Afghanistan to guarantee the funds will benefit the Afghan people, the officials said.

Transferring these funds to the Afghan central bank will depend on two key factors: responsible management of the bank and assurances that the funds will not be diverted to terrorists or criminals, the officials added.

“We do not have that confidence today,” said a senior US official. At minimum the Afghan central bank will need to “demonstrate its independence from political influence and interference.” It will also need to demonstrate it has “instituted adequate anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism controls” and “complete a third party needs assessment and onboard a reputable third party monitoring,” the official explained.

A plume of smoke rises from the scene of a drone strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul, Afghanistan. CNN has identified what appears to be the house in Kabul, Afghanistan, hit by a Hellfire missile drone strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, while he was on the balcony. The house, located in the Sherpur neighborhood, is surrounded by several houses and buildings to its north, south and west. Directly east of the house sits Omaid High School.

Biden administration does not plan to release frozen Afghan assets soon over concerns they may be diverted to terror groups

The US has been clear in telling the central bank – known as the Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) – what steps it would need to take and reiterated those steps in a letter this week from the United States deputy secretary of the Treasury, which CNN reviewed. The letter cites the need for the DAB to demonstrate independence from Taliban influence and interference, among other expectations.

Earlier this year President Joe Biden signed an executive order allowing for the $7 billion in frozen assets from Afghanistan’s central bank to eventually be distributed inside the country and to potentially fund litigation brought by families of victims of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. The funds were frozen by the US government after the Afghan government collapsed last year and the Taliban took over control of the country.

Afghanistan – now under Taliban control for over a year – is facing a potential economic catastrophe. Lawmakers have pushed the Biden administration to release the funds in order to keep the country running, for necessities such as paying teacher salaries. Last month, the UN said that the humanitarian support being provide to the country is not enough to sustain its economy.

The timing of when the central bank could meet the expectations laid out is hard to estimate, US officials said this week. In recent months US officials have said that recapitalization of the Afghan central bank is not a “near-term option.”

Setting up the new fund would enable the funds to flow quickly once the necessary steps are taken.

“The people of Afghanistan face humanitarian and economic crises born of decades of conflict, severe drought, COVID-19, and endemic corruption,” said Wendy Sherman, US deputy secretary of state. “Today, the United States and its partners take an important, concrete step forward in ensuring that additional resources can be brought to bear to reduce suffering and improve economic stability for the people of Afghanistan while continuing to hold the Taliban accountable.”

The fund’s board will consist of a US and Swiss government official, as well as two Afghan economic experts. The Taliban is not part of this financing mechanism, the officials emphasized.

Still, the US remains in contact with the Taliban for “pragmatic engagement” in support of the Afghan people and to advance America’s interests, one of the senior US officials said.

By setting up this mechanism the US is making it clear that they intend to get the frozen funds to the Afghan people if the DAB can take the necessary steps, though they do not intend to recognize the Taliban which is currently leading the country.

“I think relief organizations as well as countries that care about Afghans have sought to continue to work with almost 500,000 civil servants that continue to work on behalf of the people that includes teachers and includes health workers includes engineers, and it’ll include depth technocrats as well,” said the senior US official.

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