After months of deliberations involving top officials in the Justice, State, and Treasury departments, the Biden administration has decided what it’s going to do with the $7 billion in Afghan funds currently frozen at the Federal Reserve in New York. Half of the sum is going to go to the Afghan people to whom the money belongs, and half will go to families of 9/11 victims.
The White House said in a statement that the executive order laying out the administration’s plan for the funds “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.”
The logistics of accomplishing this are complicated considering the money belongs to Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is now controlled by the Taliban, which the U.S. does not recognize as a legitimate ruling body. The executive order Biden signed Friday consolidates the money still owned by the Afghan central bank in the U.S. through emergency powers afforded by the the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, according to The New York Times. The Times reports that officials have discussed freeing the assets for dispersal through a provision of the Federal Reserve Act.
The families of 9/11 victims have lobbied hard for their right to the money. “Anything short of equitable treatment for and among the 9/11 families as it relates to these frozen assets is outrageous and will be seen as a betrayal” by the U.S. government, said Brett Eagleson, whose father, Bruce, died in the World Trade Center attack, according to the Associated Press.
Afghanistan, however, is in the middle of a humanitarian disaster since the Taliban came into power last summer. Afghan currency has plummeted in value, banks have restricted withdrawal amounts, unemployment has risen following the departure of U.S. forces, and millions of refugees seek to avoid starvation. The administration said it would ask a judge to approve $3.5 billion going into a trust fund to be distributed to those who need it, while preventing the Taliban — which has claimed rights to the funds — from getting its hands on it.
In a fact sheet explaining the executive order, the White House acknowledged that “there are no easy solutions” for the myriad of challenges the nation faces. The U.S. has given $516 million in aid to Afghanistan since August, it noted, and recently donated one million additional Covid vaccines, bringing the total thus far to 4.3 million doses. It hasn’t been enough, though, and now the people of the war-ravaged nation will see half of $7 billion of their own money given to families of 9/11 victims.
“I can’t think of a worse betrayal of the people of Afghanistan than to freeze their assets and give it to 9/11 families,” Barry Amundson, whose brother was killed on 9/11, told the Times. “While 9/11 families are seeking justice for their loss through these suits, I fear that the end result of seizing this money will be to cause further harm to innocent Afghans who have already suffered greatly.”