KABUL: Facing pressure to prevent a humanitarian and economic catastrophe in Afghanistan, the Biden administration on Wednesday took steps to allow more aid to flow into the Taliban-led country.
The measures exempt aid groups from stringent economic sanctions that were imposed against the Taliban before they seized control of the government and have been strangling Afghanistan’s economy under its leadership. But diplomats and activists said that easing the restrictions might not be enough to rescue the country from what one U.N. official on Wednesday called “shocking” need and suffering.
At the same time, some Republicans said the Biden administration risked legitimizing and even funding Taliban leaders.
The U.S. actions and mixed response underscore the challenge that Afghanistan continues to pose for the Biden administration four months after the last American troops withdrew from the country. Administration officials have been struggling to address the dire humanitarian needs without empowering the Taliban.
A combination of the coronavirus pandemic, a severe drought, the loss of foreign aid and frozen currency reserves have left Afghanistan’s fragile economy on the brink of collapse, with aid groups warning that the harsh winter could lead to mass starvation and a refugee crisis.
After weeks of calls for swifter action, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday that it was issuing new “general licenses” that would make it easier for nongovernmental organizations, international aid groups and the U.S. government to provide relief to Afghans while maintaining economic leverage over the Taliban to prevent human rights abuses and terrorist activity.
The actions came soon after the United Nations Security Council passed a related resolution, sponsored by the United States, that exempts humanitarian activities in Afghanistan from international sanctions for a year.
Biden administration officials note that the United States remains the world’s top provider of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, even after it cut off most assistance after the Taliban takeover.
“We are committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan,” Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, said in a statement.