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US defends withdrawal from Afghanistan, rules out release of USD 3.5 bn frozen Afghan funds

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Washington | August 16, 2022 11:59:50 AM IST
The US on Monday defended its position on withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year-long military mission in the war-torn nation that ended nearly a year ago and also ruled out releasing USD 3.5 billion frozen Afghan funds to its central bank anytime soon.

Ned Price, spokesperson of the US Department of State in a briefing said, "Ending the longest war in American history was never going to be easy, but one year later we are in a stronger position as a country because of the President's decision - better able to focus on the threats and challenges but also the opportunities of today."

Many have considered the US withdrawal from Afghanistan to be a disaster after the country's capital quickly fell to the Taliban despite US President Joe Biden's reassurance, and thousands of American citizens and allies were left stranded or scrambling to safely get out of the country. Still, Price continued to claim the effort was a success in a press conference.

Price also said that Biden administration doesn't see the Afghan central bank as a near-term option in terms of releasing - unfreezing Afghan funds and talked about Al-Qaida chief, Ayman al-Zawahri's being sheltered by the Taliban as a key factor in reinforcing concerns about the possibility of funds going to terrorist groups.

Earlier Thomas West, the US government's special representative for Afghanistan had refused to release the frozen Afghan assets.

"What Tom West is referring to, and the point we have made broadly, is that we don't see recapitalization of the Afghan central bank as a near-term option. We've engaged and we still continue to engage Afghan technocrats with the central bank for many months now about measures to enhance the country's economic - macroeconomic stability. We just don't have confidence that the institutions, safeguards, and monitoring are in place to manage those assets responsibly," said Price.

"The presence of Ayman al-Zawahiri on Afghan soil with the knowledge of senior members of the Haqqani Taliban Network only reinforces the deep concerns that we have regarding the potential diversion of such funds to terrorist groups. So right now we are looking at mechanisms that could be put in place to see to it that this USD 3.5 billion in preserved assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn't make them ripe for diversion to terrorist groups or elsewhere," he added.

Refering to Afghan SIV applications, Price said, "as of August 9th of 2022, there were about 17,000 individuals who had submitted the paperwork required for chief of mission approval. There are additional individuals in the pipeline, but those individuals have in some cases only expressed interest in applying for SIVs, or in some cases they have submitted some but not all of the paperwork required for the chief of mission approval."

Historically, about 40 per cent of applicants don't pass the chief of mission approval stage. There have been nearly 90,000 Afghans evacuated or otherwise transported to the United States since August 15th of last year. Since the end of the US military-led evacuation, since essentially September 1st of last year, US have facilitated the departure of some 13,000 Afghans from Afghanistan. (ANI)

 
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