The Biden administration is taking new actions in an attempt to facilitate humanitarian aid to people in Afghanistan, with the Department of Treasury allowing some financial transactions with the Taliban.
"The United States is the largest single provider of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan," Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said in a statement Wednesday. "We are committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan, which is why Treasury is taking these additional steps to facilitate assistance."
The Treasury issued three new "general licenses" that will allow certain types of financial transactions with the Taliban and Haqqani Network, who have been largely shut out of the international financial system by American sanctions aimed at stopping terrorism and human rights abuses.
"Treasury has provided broad authorizations that ensure NGOs, international organizations and the U.S. government can continue to provide relief to those in need," Adeyemo said
The new actions come as Afghanistan faces an extreme humanitarian crisis, with more than half the population facing severe hunger as winter gets set to grip the country.
While the Treasury's new general licenses put certain conditions in place on transactions with the Taliban, critics warn that it could serve to legitimize and assist Taliban rule.
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, was critical of the move, saying that while he supports "efforts to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance directly to the Afghan people," the new policy is "shortsighted" and will "offer broad sanctions carveouts [that] could result in using American taxpayer funds to reward, legitimize and enable" the Taliban.
"Providing these exemptions under the guise of ‘humanitarian aid,' and without any prior consultation with Congress, further undermines bipartisan support and faith in the administration’s transparency and decision-making," McCaul said in a statement Wednesday. "I remain deeply frustrated that the administration still can’t confirm what assistance programs have been restarted. This committee must be permitted to conduct oversight of foreign assistance resources and priorities."
One GOP source took issue with General License 19, warning that it "paves the way" for all kinds of assistance programs that legitimize and further enable Taliban rule that has shown no assurances that they will behave according to international norms.
The source pointed out that General License 19 also opens up "environmental programs and natural resource protection," without including a clear definition as to what that means.
Adeyemo said the Taliban was only one factor causing the crisis.
"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.
Temperatures in the country have already started to fall below freezing, with one U.N official warning that as colder temperatures approach, roughly 1 million Afghan children could be in imminent danger of death.