US grants licences for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions

Afghans receive food aid distributed by Red Crescent in Kabul, on Sept 20, 2021.
Afghans receive food aid distributed by Red Crescent in Kabul, on Sept 20, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

UNITED NATIONS (REUTERS) - The United States on Friday (Sept 24) further paved the way for aid to flow to Afghanistan despite US sanctions on the Taliban, who seized control of the country last month, issuing general licences amid concern that Washington's punitive measures could compound an unfolding humanitarian crisis.

The US Treasury Department said it issued two general licences, one allowing the US government, NGOs and certain international organisations, including the United Nations, to engage in transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network - both under sanctions - that are necessary to provide humanitarian assistance.

The second licence authorises certain transactions related to the export and re-export of food, medicine and other items.

"Treasury is committed to facilitating the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support their basic human needs," Andrea Gacki, director of the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

She added that Washington will continue to work with financial institutions, NGOs and international organisations to ease the flow of agricultural goods, medicine and other resources while upholding sanctions on the Taliban, Haqqani Network and others.

The United Nations said that at the start of the year more than 18 million people - about half of Afghanistan's population - require aid amid the second drought in four years.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that Afghanistan is on "the verge of a dramatic humanitarian disaster" and has decided to engage the Taliban in order to help the country's people.

US President Joe Biden's administration has said it is committed to allowing humanitarian work in Afghanistan to continue despite Washington listing the Taliban as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group.

The sanctions freeze any US assets of the Islamist militant group and bar Americans from dealing with them, including the contribution of funds, goods or services.

Reuters reported last month that Washington issued a licence authorising the US government and its partners to continue to facilitate humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.

Friday's move expands on that specific licence, allowing international organisations and NGOs to pay taxes, fees, import duties or permits, licenses or other necessary transactions for assistance to reach the people of Afghanistan.

The licenses allow NGOs and foreign financial institutions to continue humanitarian assistance such as the delivery of food, shelter, medicine and medical services, including Covid-19 assistance, a Treasury spokesperson said.

"We have not reduced sanctions pressure on Taliban leaders or the significant restrictions on their access to the international financial system," the spokesperson said.

A Taliban offensive as foreign forces withdrew from Afghanistan after a 20-year war culminated in the capture of the capital Kabul on Aug 15, two decades after they were driven from power by a US-led campaign in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks on the United States.