This article is part of a Fox News Digital series examining the consequences of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan one year ago this week.
The U.S. continues to deny “direct” aid to the Taliban, and the group is demanding the return of all frozen funds and additional money as Afghanistan continues to suffer a significant humanitarian crisis.
“There is no rational justification for freezing that reserve and the private banks, the money from the people of Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Fox News Digital. “They have frozen the property of the people.”
“We want [the return] of this property and these money to be unfrozen, because without that, the Afghanistan Bank is not able to work and run normally. And it is needed for the normal livelihood of the people of Afghanistan for our import and export and other economic activities.”
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan after the U.S. completely withdrew its military forces in August 2021. The U.S. and other nations responded by freezing $7 billion in assets belonging to the now-defunct government, cutting the Taliban off from vital funds to help establish their new regime.
Afghanistan fell into economic collapse over the following months, prompting aid from other nations in order to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people. The U.S. similarly contributed $2 billion in the past year and recently announced plans to send $150 million in additional relief, all of which filters through the U.N. into nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Taliban have “failed” to provide for the Afghan people and have “done just the opposite.”
“The Taliban’s policies repress and starve the Afghan people instead of protecting them,” she said during a U.N. Security Council briefing. “The Taliban’s exclusion of outside voices means that the people who would contribute toward alleviating the suffering from these crises are not allowed to help.”
Shaheen insisted the Taliban have received no direct funding from the U.S. government but still demand that such funds return to the government.
“[We] have not received money directly from the U.S. government, but they have assisted the United Nations through that,” Shaheen said. “The people above, by the sending humanitarian sector, they have assisted … we are grateful for all the assistance announced by the United States with the people of Afghanistan, [but] It would have been better that was spent by the government.”
The U.S. had looked at unfreezing half of the $7 billion as a way to help stabilize the Afghanistan economy as experts warn the impending winter could cause severe and widespread suffering in the country.
The money would not go to the Taliban directly but would instead filter through a Swiss trust fund that would control the distribution of funds to humanitarian groups. Nonprofit Save Our Allies warned that the money would still end up in the hands of the Taliban, but the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) denied this claim.
A USAID spokesman told Fox News Digital that humanitarian assistance “goes directly to independent organizations like U.N. agencies and NGOs and will provide vulnerable Afghans with critically needed food; emergency health needs, including COVID-19 and polio vaccination campaigns that are ongoing; water and sanitation health care; and other urgently needed humanitarian relief.”
But Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield shared concerns that the money was not reaching those who needed it, saying instead that the Taliban “made the delivery of humanitarian assistance more difficult.”
“They continue to interfere with the delivery of critical assistance that the Afghan people desperately need,” she said in her U.N. address. She stressed the need to ensure the Taliban do not have “unconditional access to billions in assets” since the Afghanistan Central Bank “cannot currently conduct responsible monetary policy.”
“The countries that have rolled up their sleeves and tried to engage with this issue, like ours, have seen how the Afghan Central Bank was hollowed out long ago,” she continued. “It does not have a credible anti-money laundering system in place, it does not have a credible system for combatting the financing of terrorism and it does not have an independent monitor in place to verify improvements in capacity through technical assistance.
The U.S. therefore dropped plans to unfreeze assets when officials discovered Ayman al-Zawahri in Kabul, the Wall Street Journal reported. Officials explained that the presence of al Qaeda’s leader in Kabul raised concerns about the resurgence of terrorism in the country.
The U.S. carried out a targeted counterterrorism operation that resulted in al-Zawahri’s death, but the Taliban spokesman bemoaned in an interview with Fox News Digital that none of the money that has entered the country has ended up in the hands of terrorist groups.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, noted in a statement, “We do not see recapitalization of the Afghan Central Bank as a near-term option. … We do not have confidence that that institution has the safeguards and monitoring in place to manage assets responsibly.”
“Needless to say, the Taliban’s sheltering of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups,” West added.
That Taliban’s spokesman gave assurances that the Kabul regime has given “a clear message” to all “groups or people.”
“If there is anyone in hiding who’s in the country, we are looking at that. And we when we find that we will not allow,” Shaheen said. “That is a policy.”
But Shaheen hedged his statement, saying that if “someone is in hiding” in the country, that “doesn’t mean the government of the country is in line with it or agrees with that.”
Fox News’ Anders Hangstrom contributed to this report.