Blinken: US Will Not Lift Sanctions, Will Ensure Aid to Afghans

The United States says it will not lift existing sanctions on the Taliban, but it will ensure lifesaving humanitarian aid to vulnerable Afghans amid what the United Nations describes as “a looming crisis” in the country.  U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday pledged to continue humanitarian aid to the Afghan people through United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations, a day after the United States said it would provide nearly $64 million in new humanitarian assistance.  The top U.S. diplomat, during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, faced another round of tough questioning from lawmakers over last month’s withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. He testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee the day before. During the 3½-hour hearing Tuesday, Blinken said the additional funding will ”meet critical health and nutrition needs, address the protection concerns of women, children, and minorities to help more children — including girls — go back to school.”  Blinken also told senators that he would name a senior State Department official to focus on support for Afghan women, girls and minorities. FILE – Afghan women’s rights defenders and civil activists protest to call on the Taliban for the preservation of their achievements and education, in front of the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2021.The FILE – U.S. soldier holds a “Gate Closed” sign as hundreds of people gather near an evacuation checkpoint on the perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 26, 2021.Taliban insurgents took over the country in mid-August as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled to exile in the United Arab Emirates. The United States evacuated 124,000 people — most of them Afghans, and including more than 6,000 Americans — from the Kabul airport, most of them during a chaotic withdrawal in the last two weeks of August, leaving behind about 100 Americans.  Some Americans have subsequently been able to leave the country through overland exits or on a handful of flights with the Taliban’s acquiescence. But Blinken said that as of the end of last week, about 100 Americans still remain. He also mentioned the journalists who had been left behind in Afghanistan following the chaotic evacuation. The ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Representative Michael McCaul, said it was a “disgrace” that the U.S. government had failed to evacuate U.S. Agency for Global Media journalists from Afghanistan before officially ending military operations in the country on August 31. USAGM is the government-funded agency that oversees Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which between them have an estimated 550 Afghan employees and their families still in the country. Under questioning Tuesday, Blinken responded “yes” when asked by Senator Chris Coons whether evacuating the USAGM employees is a U.S. priority. He also affirmed that the State Department is committed to evacuating employees of other U.S.-funded organizations and “our partners” from the American University in Afghanistan. He did not give further details. Opposition Republican lawmakers and some Democratic colleagues of Biden have criticized the president’s handling of the withdrawal of troops, American citizens and the thousands of Afghans who worked for U.S. forces as interpreters and advisers during the war.  The criticism of Biden’s withdrawal was especially pronounced after 13 U.S. service members died in a suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport in the waning days of the exit. Islamic State-Khorasan, an Afghan offshoot of the terrorist group operating in the Middle East, claimed responsibility.  National polls of U.S. voters show wide support for Biden’s decision to end what he has called a “forever war” in Afghanistan, but not for the way the withdrawal unfolded.  VOA’s Wayne Lee and Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.

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