Biden to divide $7B in frozen Afghan funds for terror victims, humanitarian relief

President Joe Biden
Associated Press/Alex Brandon

President Biden signed an executive order on Friday intended to free up $7 billion in assets from Afghanistan’s central bank being held in the U.S., half of which could go to humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan and the other half for compensation to the families of 9/11 victims. 

The White House said in a release that the executive order is “designed to provide a path for the funds to reach the people of Afghanistan while keeping them out of the hands of the Taliban and malicious actors.” 

In signing the executive order, Biden is blocking property of Afghanistan’s central bank that is held in the U.S. and requiring American financial institutions to transfer the assets into a consolidated account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. 

The effort is unusual, as it involves money held by a foreign government on U.S. soil. It is likely to be the subject of complex litigation. 

The U.S.-backed government fell in Afghanistan in August, as the Taliban took over the country. The U.S. overthrew the Taliban more than 20 years ago after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks spearheaded by Osama bin Laden, who was then in Afghanistan.

A number of U.S. victims of terrorism, including families of victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, are currently pursuing access to the Afghanistan central bank’s funds in federal court. That work is expected to involve consultations with allies as officials try to prevent the funds from falling into the Taliban’s hands. 

A senior administration official said that a federal court in New York will ultimately need to issue a ruling to allow the $3.5 billion to be transferred to assist Afghanistan. 

The assets have been frozen since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last year. The Biden administration has for several months been exploring potential avenues for unlocking some of the assets for humanitarian assistance without directly benefiting the Taliban. 

The senior administration official said the Biden administration will spend the coming months setting up a third-party trust fund to administer the $3.5 billion in funds to support Afghanistan as officials await a court ruling. 

An official cautioned that the signing of the executive order is “a step in a process that might lead to the unlocking of these funds for the benefit of the Afghan people,” noting that the situation involves complex litigation.   

The Biden administration has been under pressure to do more to assist the Afghan people as the country spirals toward economic collapse following the U.S. withdrawal from the 20-year war there last summer.  

The U.S. is limited in what it can provide in the way of humanitarian assistance because of sanctions on the Taliban and Haqqani network, which are designated terrorist organizations.  

The Biden administration says that it has provided more than $516 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan since last August. Officials have also highlighted American donations of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Afghanistan, which have totaled 4.3 million. 

Updated at 10:21 a.m. 

Tags 9/11 families 9/11 victims Afghanistan biden administration Executive Order Frozen assets Joe Biden

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