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Afghanistan humanitarian crisis

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi recently warned that "a far greater humanitarian crisis is just beginning" for Afghanistan's 39 million people, and that "with millions in dire need of help, the humanitarian response inside Afghanistan is still desperately underfunded." (Photo: UNICEF/Kohsar/AFP)

Senate Dems Urge Biden to Redirect Billions of Unspent War Funds to Help Afghan People

The lawmakers are calling on the administration "to resist calls to reallocate this balance to the already bloated Department of Defense budget."

Brett Wilkins

While applauding the recent "decision to end America's longest war," five Democratic U.S. senators on Tuesday sent President Joe Biden and top Cabinet officials a letter urging the reallocation of more than $6 billion earmarked the Afghanistan War to fund the urgent humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.

"Incredibly, the nearly $300 million we dedicated for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan this fiscal year is approximately the same as the amount our military spent in Afghanistan every single day."
—Senators' letter

"To date, the Department of Defense has spent approximately $837.3 billion of American taxpayers' money on the war in Afghanistan since it began," notes the letter (pdf), which was led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

In addition to Biden, the letter is addressed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

"There is reportedly an estimated $2.9 billion in unspent funds appropriated for Fiscal Years (FY) 2020 and 2021 intended to support the Afghan National Army, National Police, Air Force, and Special Security Forces, none of which continue to be operational," the senators write, while urging Biden "to resist calls to reallocate this balance to the already bloated Department of Defense budget."

"Instead, we call upon you to work with Congress to direct those and other available military funds instead to support the humanitarian and relocation needs of the Afghan people," the letter states.

The senators also call on the president to revise the administration's $3.3 billion FY 2022 funding request for the vanquished Afghan government's forces "to reflect the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan" and to "account for the new humanitarian need inside Afghanistan as the Taliban takes control of the country, as well as the needs of Afghans who have left Afghanistan and require support as they relocate to the United States or other countries."

"While successive U.S. presidents of both parties have dedicated billions of dollars to the war in Afghanistan with little accountability, we continue to see arguments that the Department of Defense needs more money, despite the fact that its budget already accounts for more than the 11 next largest military budgets combined," they write. "Incredibly, the nearly $300 million we dedicated for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan this fiscal year is approximately the same as the amount our military spent in Afghanistan every single day."

"We need to move away from a military dominated foreign policy to one built on a foundation of diplomacy, humanitarian and economic assistance."
—letter

"With the legacies of Iraq and Afghanistan to guide us, it is very clear that we need to move away from a military dominated foreign policy to one built on a foundation of diplomacy, humanitarian and economic assistance, and cooperation with partners and allies," the lawmakers assert. "Therefore, we urge you to work with Congress to ensure that unspent funds, or funds meant to support the war in Afghanistan, are utilized to assist the Afghan people, who have been our steady partners for 20 years."

"As we close the chapter on the wars started following September 11, 2001, so, too, should we end the bloated military budgets that accompanied them," they conclude. "It would be an abdication of our duty to American taxpayers and to the Afghans who have supported our efforts for two decades if we continue to pour money into the Department of Defense, rather than meet the humanitarian needs of our Afghan friends and partners."

The senators' letter comes one week after the Biden administration asked Congress for $6.4 billion in emergency funds for Afghan refugee resettlement, and nearly three weeks after the peace group Win Without War launched a petition calling on U.S. lawmakers to reject calls to use billions of dollars meant for Afghanistan's former military to buy "a few more F-35s or bombs" and instead spend the money to help people in the war-torn country.

Win Without War policy director Kate Kizer said at the time that redirecting the more than $6 billion earmarked for defunct Afghan forces "to finance evacuations, refugee resettlement, and much-needed humanitarian assistance... could spell the difference between life and death for countless Afghans."

On August 30, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned that "a far greater humanitarian crisis is just beginning" for Afghanistan's 39 million people, and that "with millions in dire need of help, the humanitarian response inside Afghanistan is still desperately underfunded."


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