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Afghan children are seen with their mothers in Kabul, Afghanistan on January 16, 2022.

Afghan children are seen with their mothers in Kabul, Afghanistan on January 16, 2022. In Afghanistan, children cannot stand on their feet despite their age; the reason is simply hunger. Rates of malnutrition are soaring in the country. (Photo: Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

As Afghans Suffer, 44 Dems Join GOP to Block Assessment of US Sanctions

Ahead of the vote, Rep. Jayapal said that "we should have a comprehensive picture of what is occurring, including an honest understanding of our own actions and their human impacts."

Andrea Germanos

A majority of House lawmakers on Thursday rejected a measure put forth by Rep. Pramila Jayapal that would have required an assessment of the humanitarian impact of the Biden administration's economic sanctions on Afghanistan and the U.S. freezing nearly $10 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank.

"This amendment is critical to ensure that our government doesn't cause starvation and suffering abroad," Jayapal (D-Wash.) said earlier Thursday.

The proposal, an amendment to the anti-China America COMPETES Act of 2022, was easily defeated in a 175-255 vote, with 44 Democrats joining all Republicans to block the measure.

According to Keane Bhatt, policy director for the Congressional Progressive Caucus chaired by Jayapal, it marked "the first vote in Congress on U.S. sanctions threatening 22 million Afghans."

The vote followed a crescendo of alarm from humanitarian aid groups about the civilian impact of the financial restrictions targeting the country since the Taliban took power following two decades of U.S. occupation.

Warnings of widespread child malnutrition, mass hunger, and health facilities on the brink have become more dire.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said last week that "daily life has become a frozen hell for the people of Afghanistan." And earlier last month, International Rescue Committee president and CEO David Miliband warned that "the people of Afghanistan are being pushed towards the brink of disaster, and for some already beyond the brink."

Miliband said that "the proximate cause of today's humanitarian disaster is clear; the economic tourniquet applied to Afghanistan, with the withdrawal of budgetary support to pay civil servants (including teachers and doctors), a freeze on Afghan assets, and broad-ranging sanctions despite exemptions for humanitarian work, is having a brutal and obvious effect."

In a floor speech ahead of the vote, Jayapal drew attention to that downward spiral and offered a scathing critic of the U.S. economic restrictions on the country.

Following the U.S. military withdrawal from the country last year, she said "U.S. sanctions on the Taliban have impacted the broader functioning of the entire Afghan government, including schools and hospitals, which cannot buy food for the patients or gas to heat their buildings."

With reports of as many as one million Afghan children facing possible starvation this winter, Jayapal warned that "fatalities could far exceed civilian deaths resulting from 20 years of war."

The U.S. having frozen billions of the Afghan Central Bank's foreign reserves have made "it impossible for the country's financial system to function and threate[n] to collapse the entire economy," she said.

"If appeals from the world's leading humanitarian and aid organizations on the devastating impacts of current U.S. policy do not persuade my colleagues," said Jayapal, "I ask them to consider whether Afghanistan's economic crisis will pose an opportunity for neighboring China to expand its influence on the country."

In December, Jayapal, along with Reps. Jesus "Chuy" García (D-Ill.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), led a group of over 40 of House Democrats in urging the Biden administration to "urgently" lift the financial restrictions.

In their letter to President Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the Democrats warned that the measures threatened to plunge Afghanistan "deeper into economic and humanitarian crisis."

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