Biden administration does not plan to release frozen Afghan assets anytime soon, fearing they could be diverted to terror groups

By Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler, CNN

The Biden administration does not plan to release billions of dollars in Afghan government assets held by the country’s central bank anytime soon, fearing the funds could end up in the hands of terrorists after the death of the leader of Al- Qaeda while hiding in the Afghan capital. .

“We don’t see Afghan central bank recapitalization as a near-term option,” said Tom West, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan.

West said “the Taliban’s sheltering of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri heightens our deep concerns about the diversion of funds to terrorist groups.”

A spokesman for the National Security Council highlighted progress in establishing a mechanism to release funds, but cited Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul as having a direct impact on how the administration deals the Taliban.

“We have engaged with our foreign counterparts in efforts to support the establishment of an international trust fund with strong safeguards to enable the use of Afghan reserves for the benefit of the Afghan people in light of the economic and humanitarian crisis. current situation in Afghanistan,” the NSC spokesman said. “We have made considerable progress and our current goal is to support the creation of this fund. The recent revelations of the Taliban’s blatant violation of the Doha agreement illustrate the importance of remaining lucid in our relations with the Taliban. Our approach to the future of these assets will continue to reflect this reality.

This decision not to move anytime soon on the release of funds comes about six months after President Joe Biden signed an executive order allowing the $7 billion in frozen assets of the Afghan central bank to finally be distributed internally. country and potentially fund litigation brought by families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The funds were frozen by the US government after the fall of the Afghan government last year and the Taliban takeover of the country.

On Sunday, CNN reported that a US intelligence assessment prepared after the United States killed Zawhahiri earlier this month found the terror group “has not reconstituted its presence in Afghanistan” since all troops Americans left the country last August.

A summary of the intelligence assessment indicated that the consensus view of the intelligence community is that, although less than a dozen “core members” of al-Qaeda remain in Afghanistan – and were likely there before Kabul fell to the Taliban last year – Zawahiri was the only key figure who tried to reestablish himself in the country after the departure of American forces.

However, the decision not to unfreeze the assets underscores concerns within the administration about the potential long-term threat that terrorist groups could pose under the Taliban.

Earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed concern about the potential threat. “I worry about the possibility that we will see al-Qaeda reconstitute itself,” he told Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, during a congressional hearing.

When asked if he feared an attack on the homeland “from places like Afghanistan,” Wray replied, “We are. Especially now that we’re out, I worry about the potential loss of sources and collection there.

West also cited US concerns about the Afghan central bank’s management capabilities.

“While we have engaged Afghan technocrats with the central bank for many months on measures to strengthen the country’s macroeconomic stability, we are not confident that this institution has the necessary safeguards and oversight to manage assets. responsibly,” West said.

Of the $7 billion in funds, $3.5 billion could be used to provide relief in the interior of the country, where fears of mass starvation have taken hold in the months since Israel took power. the Taliban. The remaining $3.5 billion was to be made available to the families of 9/11 victims, who fought in court for compensation using the frozen funds.

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