9/11 victims ask US to keep seized funds for suit

The 9/11 families who sued the Taliban for negligence immediately after the September 11 attacks are urging the government to keep $278m in frozen Afghan funds, which the US government says is the proceeds of illegal drug sales and other crimes.

Family members of 9/11 victims who sued the Taliban in 2002 were moved to act on behalf of the United States against the Taliban after an April decision by the US Department of Justice to freeze $278m in assets the US government had obtained from drug trafficking.

The family members had previously opposed additional funding for the lawsuit and said in April they planned to reserve their funds to defend the suit in court.

The family members said Tuesday that the extra $278m and the government’s claim of another $176m was ill-timed given the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

They had earlier expressed concern the oil-rich Islamic republic would not hesitate to divert funding away from the fund to support its war efforts, which has taken nearly 30,000 lives in the last 17 years.

“Unless the president signs the bill by the end of the day June 7, he will be signing the death of these families,” Russell Leigh Moses, a co-lead plaintiff whose younger brother died on 9/11, said in a telephone conference with reporters.

Bryan Dixon, a petitioner whose father died on 9/11, added “we are all concerned that some or all of this money could be funnelled into the hands of those who committed these acts of terror.”

Alarm and rejoicing

With 5,669 petition signatures, the 9/11 victims on Tuesday urged US President Donald Trump to sign a spending measure which they said should be used to pay their expenses in the lawsuit.

It had narrowly cleared Congress in the final days of the most recent session but again stalled over disagreements regarding the Afghanistan money.

Republicans originally opposed the bill, partly because they feared it could deter US allies from sending funds to fund the war effort, which they felt contributed to climate change and starvation in poor countries.

The Trump administration, which privately supports the bill and is also acting as the chief sponsor, says the $278m in frozen funds should be used for security and anti-corruption programs in Afghanistan.

On Monday, officials in the Trump administration notified Congress that the US government would not need to continue to hold the cash in Afghanistan.

Instead, they decided it would be best to “cease the effort and withdraw from the assets frozen in Afghanistan.”

The Afghanistan money was part of a multi-billion dollar fund intended to aid the government of Afghanistan for its security and counter-narcotics efforts.

Negotiations with the Taliban in Washington this week to come up with a deal to end the US war have failed to produce a settlement.

However, the American public is still largely divided over what to do with the remaining US forces in Afghanistan, where more than 350 have died since 2001.

Many Americans want to leave now but President Trump recently admitted that involvement in Afghanistan would continue until conditions allowed.

The Obama administration had set an end-of-2016 deadline to end the war but a 2014 drawdown of US troops yielded a stalemate that set the US-led coalition into a continued drive to defeat the Taliban.

Five of the 9/11 attackers were reportedly from Afghanistan.

‘Litmus test’

The Afghanistan war officially began in October 2001 after the 9/11 attacks.

The mandate of the US-led coalition has changed over the past 17 years with most international forces combat-based, numbering fewer than 15,000 soldiers in 2017.

They are spread across several bases in Afghanistan and are under the command of the US military.

US forces mainly train, advise and assist the security forces in Afghanistan.

A small contingent of special forces remains in Afghanistan at a non-combat capacity as they advise Afghan forces, who are the main target of militant attacks.

Critics of the Afghan war say the Taliban remains as deadly as ever and that the US military has failed to secure the country.

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Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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