Debate Grows Over US Aid to Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan

September 17, 2021Dustin Jones
A photo on twitter was described as a Taliban ‘parade’ to mark Afghanistan’s Independence Day, Thursday, August 19.

A photo on twitter was described as a Taliban ‘parade’ to mark Afghanistan’s Independence Day, Thursday, August 19.

The United Nations hoped to raise more than $600 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan during talks in Geneva Monday, Sept. 13.

But donors doubled that goal, pledging $1.2 billion for the Afghan people, with the US Agency for International Development offering to contribute $64 million.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in Congress quarreled over what more taxpayers will send to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Between 2002 and the fall of Kabul this summer, America sent $3.9 billion on humanitarian assistance to the nation.

In his Tuesday testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed President Joe Biden’s argument that the primary mission in Afghanistan ended years ago.

“After 20 years, 2,461 American lives lost, 20,000 injuries, $2 trillion spent, it was time to end America’s longest war,” Blinken told senators.

Taliban aid
US special operations forces teamed up with Afghan special security forces to discover and destroy a large amount of drugs during a raid in Farah province, Afghanistan, July 2019. Commanders hoped this effort would crack a drug network and reduce Taliban influence in the area. US Army photo by Sgt. Andrea Salgado Rivera.

A mass evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees to the US and Europe this summer capped two decades of the American-led war there. But since US troops left, reports surfaced alleging widespread torture and summary executions at the hands of the Taliban.

Foreign relations committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, called the US withdrawal “fatally flawed,” concerns repeated by Sen. James Risch, an Idaho Republican. 

Risch noted the FBI’s $10 million bounty for Sirajuddin Haqqani, a wanted terrorist who now helms Afghanistan’s interior ministry.

The senator questioned whether the administration’s newfound faith in the Taliban will protect US security interests.

“I also remain concerned that the administration is rushing to normalize ties with the Taliban government,” Risch, the ranking Republican on the committee, told Blinken. “This must not occur without extensive congressional consultations. Your notification that you intended to restart foreign assistance is deeply, deeply concerning.

Blinken sought to assure lawmakers that the $64 million earmarked for Kabul would provide health and nutrition support to the Afghan people, not prop up the Taliban government. Aid, he said, will flow through independent organizations and the UN, not through the Taliban.

But UN Secretary-General António Guterres conceded it would be impossible to deliver humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan without working with the Taliban. Taliban leaders have assured UN officials that they will respect the international organization’s mission and provide security escorts when needed, according to a UN statement. 

Taliban aid
US special operations forces partnered with Afghan special security forces to recover 28 detainees from a Taliban prison in Naw Bahar District, Zabul province, May 30, 2019. Planners hoped these operations would reduce Taliban pressure and their ability to expand their control in the area. But Kabul fell two years later. US Army photo by Sgt. Andrea Salgado Rivera.

During the hearing on Capitol Hill, Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, asked Blinken to promise that the roughly $10 billion in Afghan bank assets frozen after the fall of Kabul wouldn’t be returned to a Taliban government. Blinken assured him that the Taliban would have to make good on their commitments to the international community before any deposits would be freed.

He told Paul that the Taliban craved legitimacy and global recognition for their government, which gave the US and other nations “significant leverage” over the Taliban’s future.

“The nature of the relationship that the Taliban would have with us or most other countries around the world will depend entirely on its conduct and actions, specifically with regard to freedom of travel, as well as to making good on its counterterrorism commitments, upholding basic rights of the Afghan people, not engaging in reprisals, et cetera,” Blinken told the committee.

“These are the things that not only we, but countries around the world, are looking at,” he said. “And there is, I think, a significant leverage that we and other countries hold when it comes to things that the Taliban says it wants but won’t get if it does not act in a way that meets these expectations.”

Read Next: Should Gen. Milley Be in Jail? The Facts Behind the Milley ‘Treason’ Scandal

Dustin Jones
Dustin Jones

Dustin Jones is a former senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine covering military and intelligence news. Jones served four years in the Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He studied journalism at the University of Colorado and Columbia University. He has worked as a reporter in Southwest Montana and at NPR. A New Hampshire native, Dustin currently resides in Southern California.

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