U.S. allows trade with Afghanistan despite Taliban sanctions

People walk in the snow in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Snow in Kabul, Afghanistan.
(Hussein Malla / Associated Press)

The Biden administration is seeking to assure financial institutions and other businesses that U.S. sanctions on the Taliban aren’t intended to interfere with trade that could help Afghanistan emerge from an economic and humanitarian crisis.

Senior administration officials told reporters Friday that the Treasury Department planned to issue a so-called general license that would expand the authorization for commercial and financial transactions in Afghanistan in hopes of helping Afghans but not the Taliban.

The officials, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss the license ahead of its release, said the action is intended to restart some of the commercial activity that shut down after the fall of the U.S.-backed government to the Taliban in August.


It’s the latest in a series of actions by the administration aimed at alleviating a worsening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where aid groups estimate that nearly 24 million people, more than half the country, face severe hunger and nearly 9 million are on the brink of starvation.

Temperatures are expected to peak by next Tuesday in Southern California.

Conditions in Afghanistan were grim for many even before the Taliban takeover, with a long-running drought and entrenched poverty. But the situation has grown more dire because the government relied on foreign assistance for 75% of its budget.

Administration officials concede that the Treasury license will have only a limited effect on businesses that are reluctant to do business in Afghanistan regardless of sanctions.

The Biden administration this year announced more than $300 million in humanitarian aid and is working with the World Bank and other organizations to provide additional relief from money that had been previously set aside for development.

The Treasury Department also issued general licenses to make it clear that humanitarian assistance would not run afoul of sanctions.

It also set aside $3.5 billion of Afghan government funds frozen in the U.S. after the Taliban takeover to help the country’s economy in a way that officials say has not yet been determined. One option is to use the money to re-capitalize the country’s central bank if it can be run independent of the Taliban.

The remainder of the frozen funds are being held pending legal claims from relatives of people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who have won lawsuits against the Taliban.