Middle East

U.S. working to add $300 million in civilian aid to Afghanistan -Blinken

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at NATO's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium April 14, 2021. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON, April 21 (Reuters) - The Biden administration is working with Congress to provide nearly $300 million in civilian aid to Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, funds the Trump administration conditioned on progress in peace talks.

The announcement follows President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from America's longest war before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to the U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban.

In announcing the withdrawal on April 14, Biden said the United States would continue providing assistance to Afghan security forces and to civilian programs, including those for women and girls.

Blinken said the new assistance from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development was intended to "demonstrate our enduring support for the Afghan people."

"The funding will be targeted at sustaining and building on gains in the past 20 years by improving access to essential services for Afghan civilians," he said in a statement.

The money will go to promoting economic growth, fighting corruption, supporting "women's empowerment," civil society and independent media and other programs, he said.

The nearly $300 million was part of a $600 million aid pledge made by the Trump administration at an international aid conference in November.

But it withheld half the funds, making their release conditional on progress in peace talks in Doha between the Taliban and a delegation that includes Afghan officials.

The talks have been deadlocked for months. A U.S.-backed international conference that was to be held this week in Istanbul to kickstart the negotiations has been postponed because of the Taliban's refusal to attend. read more

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Susan Heavey

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