President Joe Biden signed an executive order Friday allowing $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 terror attacks, senior administration officials confirmed Friday.
The funds, held in the US, were frozen following the collapse of the central government in Kabul in August. Half the remaining assets – $3.5 billion – could go toward providing relief inside the country, where fears of mass starvation have taken hold in the months since the Taliban took over.
The remaining $3.5 billion will be made available for terror victims, who have been fighting in court for compensation using the frozen funds. Their claims will still be litigated by a judge, and senior White House officials said unfreezing the money was a necessary legal step in order for claimants to have their day in court.
The New York Times first reported Biden’s planned executive order.
In a call with reporters Friday, senior administration officials called the move just “one step in a process that might lead” to the unlocking of these funds for the benefit of the Afghan people, noting that the US is moving to put the reserves in a trust that will be “separate and distinct” from the ongoing American humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
Officials said the funds could extend beyond only humanitarian aid.
“We plan to consult widely in the coming months, including with the Afghan community, about the governance and use of the funds we are seeking to release,” an official said.
Families of 9/11 victims have been pursuing financial compensation from the Taliban for years and renewed their efforts following the group’s takeover of the country last year and the subsequent freezing of the Afghan assets. The Biden administration has been weighing how to proceed for months. The officials said that the $3.5 billion remaining in the US will be “subject to the ongoing litigation by US victims of terrorism.”