President Biden Plans to Use Portion of Afghanistan Funds for 9/11 Victims After Taliban Takeover

One of Afghanistan's former presidents called the plan "an atrocity"

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty

President Joe Biden plans to allow a portion of the billions of dollars in frozen assets seized from Afghanistan's central bank amid the country's takeover by the Taliban to go toward settling claims brought by families of victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, senior administration officials explained that, when the capital of Kabul fell to the Taliban, Afghanistan had over $9 billion in reserves, the source of which was international assistance from the U.S. and other donors from the past two decades.

A large portion of those funds ($7 billion) were in U.S. reserves, and — due to an executive order signed last week by President Biden — are now ready to be allocated. The Biden adminiistration said the move "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."

But exactly who will ultimately receive that money remains to be seen, officials said.

According to the White House, the administration plans to have $3.5 billion go toward providing humanitarian relief inside Afghanistan, where citizens have suffered from starvation and freezing weather in recent months. The other $3.5 billion, however, will be subject to ongoing litigation by U.S. victims of terrorism, including families of those killed in 9/11.

An administration official told reporters on Friday that they wanted to "be very clear" that this was also "a step in a process that might lead to the unlocking of these funds for the benefit of the Afghan people," noting that a number of American victims of terrorism have brought claims against the Taliban for monetary relief and are pursuing legal access to those same funds.

As the official explained, victims' families suing the Taliban to try and access those funds will have "a full opportunity to have their claims heard in U.S. courts."

"Just to emphasize again: This is one step forward in a process, and no funds are going to be transferred until the court makes a ruling," the official said.

Not everyone was pleased with the idea that some of the funds could go toward terrorism victims, rather than Afghans.

Afghanistan's former President Hamid Karzai said in a press conference over the weekend that the Afghan people "are as much victims as those families who lost their lives," in the Sept. 11 attacks, the Associated Press reported.

"The people of Afghanistan share the pain of the American people, share the pain of the families and loved ones of those who died, who lost their lives in the tragedy of Sept. 11," Karzai said. "We commiserate with them (but) Afghan people are as much victims as those families who lost their lives. ... Withholding money or seizing money from the people of Afghanistan in their name is unjust and unfair and an atrocity against Afghan people."

In April, President Biden announced that all U.S. military troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 — 20 years after the 2001 terror attacks that touched off the country's longest war.

In the following months, the U.S. completed a full-scale withdrawal — one that led to the Taliban swiftly retaking the country's cities as they were met with little resistance from the Afghan army and its democratic government, which soon collapsed.

Since the last American military plane left the region, humanitarian groups have been rushing to save Afghans who now face freezing to death or starvation due to lack of access to food and fuel.

In a December news release, the World Food Programme said the number of Afghan people turning to humanitarian aide is "immense."

A report led by the United Nations' World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization released last October found that 23 million people in Afghanistan — more than half its population — were projected to face acute food insecurity in the winter months.

The UN also estimates that nearly 3 million people in Afghanistan have been displaced from their homes due to drought, war and famine. With many of them now homeless, living in public spaces or tents erected outside, the situation is compounded by winter weather.

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