KABUL, Afghanistan — Many Afghans have expressed outrage at the Biden administration’s decision to divert billions in frozen Afghan central bank assets to American families of 9/11 victims as Afghanistan sinks deeper more and more in economic disaster.

The move, which would effectively bankrupt the country’s central bank, adds to the growing animosity many Afghans have felt toward the United States since the troop withdrawal that paved the way for the Taliban’s takeover of the country. in August.

“This is a cruel act and a betrayal of the rights of the Afghan people,” Fazl Ahmad, a trader in Kabul, the capital, said on Saturday. “It is clear that the current poor economic situation is due to US economic constraints on Afghanistan.”

After the Taliban seized power, the Biden administration froze some $7 billion in central bank assets that the now-defunct Western-backed government had on deposit at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, amid uncertainty as to who – if anyone – now had the legal authority to access the account.

On Friday, the Biden administration began a process to let relatives of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks who have legal claims against the Taliban pursue $3.5 billion of those assets. The Taliban harbored al-Qaeda leaders who planned the 9/11 attacks under the previous Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The White House said a roughly equal amount would be directed to humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, which is facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. In a statement, he said the move was “designed to allow funds to reach the Afghan people, while keeping them out of the hands of the Taliban and malicious actors.”

But for many Afghans, the decision to hand over half of the assets to the Americans has amplified frustrations over the US stranglehold on the country’s financial system since it withdrew its troops.

For months, the Afghan economy has been on the brink of collapse. The millions of aid dollars that sustained the Western-backed government have disappeared, and US sanctions have crippled the banking system and hampered the ability of aid organizations to deliver aid.

As the humanitarian crisis has deepened, US officials have wrestled with difficult questions about how to meet their obligations to suffering Afghans without putting money in the hands of the Taliban.

But Afghans are increasingly saying that US policies have done little to punish the Taliban, while taking a heavy toll on millions of ordinary people.

“The Americans see it as punishing the Taliban, but it’s punishing the Afghans,” Mohammadullah Khan, 45, of Helmand province, said in response to the White House announcement on Friday.

Under the Western-backed government, Mr. Khan worked for a US-funded non-profit organization in the Southern Province. But after the Taliban took over, its funding disappeared, as did Mr Khan’s work. Six months later, he is still unemployed and struggling to buy food for his wife and six children.

Mr. Khan is one of millions of Afghans whose closets are empty. Three quarters of the Afghan population have been plunged into extreme poverty, with 4.7 million people likely to suffer from severe malnutrition this year, according to the United Nations.

“Life is getting worse day by day,” said Haji Abdul Nafi, 40, a trader in Kandahar City. “We can’t earn money to live on, we can’t do business with other countries, we can’t import and export goods – we’re almost cut off from the world.”

Mr Nafi said he was appalled by the US announcement on Friday. If US officials were concerned that disbursing the funds to the central bank would lead to Taliban enrichment, then the assets should have remained frozen rather than being reallocated, he said.

“It’s our money – it doesn’t belong to the Taliban,” Mr Nafi said. Giving billions to the families of 9/11 victims would “break the hearts of millions of ordinary people in Afghanistan”, he said.

On Saturday, the Afghan central bank – known as Da Afghanistan Bank – demanded in A declaration that the Biden administration reconsider its decision. Some Taliban officials went further in condemning this decision.

“The money frozen by the United States is the right of the Afghan people, and we will fight to achieve it as we have done for the past 20 years,” said the Kabul police spokesman, Khalid Zadran. on Twitter.

The White House decision drew criticism from human rights groups, lawyers and financial experts who warned that the move could gut the country’s central bank for years to come, crippling its ability to set monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payments.

Experts also said the $3.5 billion set aside for humanitarian aid would be for naught unless the United States lifts restrictions on Afghanistan’s banking system that have hampered the flow of aid into the country. the country.

“This move would set a problematic precedent for the requisitioning of sovereign wealth and would do little to address the underlying factors driving Afghanistan’s massive humanitarian crisis,” said John Sifton, director advocacy for Asia at Human Rights Watch, said in a press release.

Experts also warn that aid can only go so far to revive a collapsing economy.

In his office in Mandawi Bazaar, one of Kabul’s oldest markets, Aqa Gul expressed dismay on Saturday. The owner of an import-export company, he said his business had been crippled by the collapse of the banking system, which he blamed on US policies.

“The Afghan people are already in a very bad economic situation,” he said. “If the United States hands over Afghanistan’s assets to others, the economy will only get worse.”

Christina Goldbaum and Safiullah Padshah reported from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Yacoob Akbary contributed reporting from Kabul.