WASHINGTON: The United States announced additional steps on Wednesday easing sanctions against the Taliban to allow aid groups to funnel desperately needed help to the people of Afghanistan.
As the conflict-battered country faces an economic collapse and an acute shortage of food, the US Treasury also updated guidance to make clear that exports of goods and cash transfers are allowed as long as they do not go to individuals targeted by US sanctions.
Treasury said the latest steps also “help implement” the UN Security Council resolution adopted Wednesday that allows aid to flow into the country for one year without violating international sanctions aimed at isolating the Taliban.
“We are committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan, which is why Treasury is taking these additional steps to facilitate assistance,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.
Since the Taliban takeover in August, Washington froze $9.5 billion in reserves and the international community has withdrawn billions in humanitarian aid that Afghanistan and its population of roughly 40 million people relied on, and the currency has collapsed.
Without funds to pay civil servants, families have resorted to selling furniture and jewelry to make ends meet.
With the country also battered by drought and the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Nations early this month warned the “unprecedented fiscal shock” could cause the economy to contract by 20 percent within a year. International aid had represented 40 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP and financed 80 percent of its budget.
The United States issued an initial round of humanitarian aid exemptions to sanctions a few weeks after the Taliban takeover.
Adeyemo said Washington “has provided broad authorizations that ensure NGOs, international organizations, and the US government can continue to provide relief to those in need.”
That includes UN agencies, the Red Cross and regional development banks providing food, health and education services.
“Unfortunately, the economy faces grave challenges, exacerbated by the country’s long dependence on foreign aid, donor and private sector flight sparked by the Taliban’s takeover, drought, structural macroeconomic issues, and the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Treasury said there are no sanctions that prohibit shipments of goods and services or funds into the country as long as they do not go to the Taliban or Haqqani Network, which remain subject to sanctions.
However, the exemptions allow payment of duties, taxes and fees to the Taliban-controlled government, according to the statement.