Biden Is Trying To Return Billions In Frozen Assets To Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. will continue to seek a way to return billions in frozen foreign-held assets to the Afghan people despite slow-walking from the Taliban, Reuters reported Monday.

The Biden administration discounted the possibility of unlocking $3.5 billion in assets for the Afghan central bank (DAB) after revelations earlier in August that notorious terrorist leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was living in Kabul for fear the money could fall into Taliban hands, The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 15. However, the current plan will involve transferring DAB assets to a Swiss trust fund and using an international board to bypass the Taliban and disburse the money, frozen in 2021 after the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, according to Reuters.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price clarified on Aug. 16 that the U.S. was seeking a mechanism to deliver the funds straight to the Afghan people but did not believe the Afghan central bank had adequate safeguards to “manage this level of assets responsibly.”

“We do not see recapitalization of the DAB as a near-term option,” Thomas West, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, told the WSJ.

The U.S. had suspended talks with the Taliban on releasing the funds, according to the WSJ. Returning funds to the DAB or directing them to humanitarian ends were no longer viable options, but the Biden administration would persist in discussions with international partners on managing the assets.

A U.S. drone strike killed Al-Qaida leader al-Zawahiri in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital city on July 30. The Taliban denied prior knowledge of Zawahiri’s whereabouts, but the U.S. accused the Taliban of knowingly harboring the terrorist, Reuters reported. (RELATED: Biden Said Al-Qaida Was ‘Gone’ From Afghanistan. The US Just Killed The Group’s Leader In Kabul)

“The strike did not change the U.S. government’s commitment to setting up the international trust fund,” and the U.S. is “working with the same speed and alacrity as before the strike,” a U.S. source familiar with the subject told Reuters.

“We want to see these funds into the hands, into the pockets of the Afghan people as quickly and effectively as we can manage, and we’re continuing to work with international partners to devise a way to do that,” Price said.

State Department and Treasury officials said in a briefing on Aug. 11 they would continue talks with Taliban leaders, including some under U.S. and international sanctions, despite the slow pace,  according to Reuters.

The Taliban offered a counterproposal in late June and has resisted other international demands to replace militant DAB leaders and facilitate transfer of World Bank funds to humanitarian agencies in Kabul, dragging out talks, Reuters reported.

The U.S. holds a total of $7 billion in Afghan central bank assets, but about half is tied up in lawsuits with family members of 9/11 victims. The Biden administration blocked the other $3.5 billion in February and announced it would seek a way to return the money to the Afghan people pending judicial decisions.

The State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.

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