Donkeys carry bottles and woods as daily lives continues in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on February 5, 2022.

Donkeys carry bottles and woods as daily lives continues in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on February 5, 2022. Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Biden Seeking To Split $7B In Afghan Money Between Humanitarian Aid, 9/11 Families

Any transfer of money will need to be approved by the courts because of the pending legal cases brought by families of terrorist victims.

Updated 11:47 a.m. ET.

The White House is seeking to turn over about $7 billion of Afghanistan’s money to help the Afghan people and cover the judgements in legal cases brought by the families of terrorist victims. 

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday to start the process of getting some money to Afghanistan, though any transfer of funds will need to be approved by a New York federal court. Still, the proposed change met some swift blowback from critics who claim Afghanistan’s money should not be used to pay restitution for an attack planned by a terrorist group and carried out by Saudi men. 

When the Taliban took over the country in August, Afghanistan’s central bank had received more than $9 billion from international assistance from other countries, but about $7 billion of that sum is held at American financial institutions, a senior administration official told reporters in a call ahead of the executive order release. The executive order is requiring that those $7 billion be transferred into a consolidated account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The administration is hoping to send about $3.5 billion to help the worsening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The remaining $3.5 billion will be available to pay the families of American terrorist victims, including some of those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, who have brought their cases to court.

Jack Quinn, a lawyer who represents many of the 9/11 victims’ families, commended the administration for setting aside some of the money for those who lost so much in the terrorist attacks.

“I appreciate that the administration continues to recognize that many thousands of family members of people killed or injured in the 9/11 attacks on our country have yet to receive due justice even remotely comparable to their losses,” said Quinn, who served as White House counsel in the Clinton administration. “It’s important now that all who have been victims be helped in a fair and equitable fashion by the American judicial process and, if necessary, by Congress."

Any transfer of the money to help the Afghan people will have to be approved by a judge because the court has frozen Afghanistan’s American-held assets while the families' cases move forward, the senior administration official said.

“Even if $3.5 billion of the funds are transferred for the benefit of the Afghan people, more than $3.5 billion, just over half, of the [Da Afghanistan Bank] assets will remain in the United States subject to ongoing litigation by the U.S. victims of terrorism,” the official said. “The U.S. claimants here are going to have a full opportunity to have their claims heard in U.S. courts.”

The court’s decision on the transfer could take “several months,” the official said. During that time, the administration will set up a trust fund to ensure that none of the humanitarian aid benefits the Taliban, and will also consult with allies about where the money should go.

It is an “unprecedented situation,” the official said. “We have $7 billion of assets in the United States owned by a country where there is no government that we recognize….We are acting responsibly to ensure a portion of that money can be used to benefit people of that country.”

The attempt to split the money between Afghans and the families of victims of terrorism met some immediate backlash from some people who argued that it was unfair to use Afghanistan’s money to pay for the losses of 9/11, in which the Afghan public was not involved. The attacks were planned by Afghanistan-based terrorist group Al Qaeda and the terrorists who carried out the attack were mostly from Saudi Arabia.

“The Afghan people had nothing to do with 9/11,” tweeted Trita Parsi, the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “If they have to pay for the deaths of 3,000 Americans, then who has to pay for the deaths of 1000s of Afghans killed by the US in the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan?”

But the senior administration official said the White House is limited by what it can do because judges have already earmarked this money to be frozen for potentially paying victims’ families.

“Consistent with our country’s law and values, when somebody thinks they have a legitimate claim and a judge is hearing that [and] freezing some of the funds, that’s obviously something we have to take seriously,” the official said. “We are taking a step to try to make sure some of this money can be used for the benefit of the Afghan people while respecting the legal process.”

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is growing worse, and restrictions to ensure aid money does not reach the Taliban are making it harder to help the Afghan people, advocates told Congress this week. David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said that starvation could kill more Afghans than the past 20 years of war.