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US Treasury Freezes Billions In Afghan Reserves, Depriving Taliban Of Cash

The Biden administration has scrambled to deprive the terrorist organization of funding.

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After handing the Taliban US-supplied military hardware on a silver platter thanks to the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, the Biden administration scrambled to deprive the terrorist organization of funding – freezing Afghan government reserves held in US bank accounts, and blocking the Taliban from accessing billions of dollars held in US institutions, according to the Washington Post, citing two people familiar with the matter.

The decision was made by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and officials in Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the people said. The State Department was also involved in discussions this weekend, with officials in the White House monitoring the developments. An administration official said in a statement, “Any Central Bank assets the Afghan government have in the United States will not be made available to the Taliban.” The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss government policy not yet made public.

As of April, the Afghan central bank held $9.4 billion reserve assets according to the International Monetary Fund – roughly one third of the country’s annual economic output. The vast majority are held outside of the country, according to the Post, billions of which are in the United States.

According to the report, the freeze took effect on Sunday. As the situation was rapidly deteriorating over the weekend, Afghani Central Bank governor Ajmal Ahmady tweeted that they were told they wouldn’t receive any more dollar shipments. 

As the Post notes, Afghanistan is already one of the poorest countries in the world, and has been highly dependent on US assistance. What’s more, the Biden administration will also likely face difficult decisions over how to manage existing sanctions on the Taliban – while dealing with trying to deliver humanitarian aid to a population in dire need.

According to Adam M. Smith, who served on the National Security Council and as senior adviser to the director of the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control during the Obama administration, the Biden administration didn’t need any new authority to freeze the reserves because the Taliban is already sanctioned under an executive order approved following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Meanwhile, the US sends roughly $3 billion per year in support for the Afghan military, which can only be sent if the Secretary of Defense “certifies to Congress that the Afghan forces are controlled by a civilian, representative government that is committed to protecting human rights and women’s right.”

This funding is expected to stop flowing as well, along with smaller pots of money, such as $20 million for recruiting women to the AfghanNational Security Forces. About 80 percent of Afghanistan’s budget is funded by the U.S. and other international donors, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told Reuters this spring. A spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget declined to comment on the status of Congressionally-approved funding for Afghanistan.

“Of course, it’s dangerous,” said Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, a consulting firm, about restrictions on the Afghan economy, including the freezing of funds held in the U.S. “You’ll see a lot more refugees on the back of this, a lot more radicalism on the back of this. But, on the other hand, Afghanistan will not be able to control this country for a very long period of time. I can’t see us spending money on the Taliban.” -WaPo

According to the UN Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, half of the country’s total population has required humanitarian assistance this year, nearly double that from 2020, and a six-fold increase from four years ago.

Maybe China will kick in a few billion bucks to their new besties?

Republished from ZH, used here with permission.

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Awesome New Infrared Goggles Could Help Blind People ‘See’ Surroundings

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People who are blind or deal with low vision face a unique number of challenges in their daily lives, ranging from accessing published material to holding a job or living on one’s own.

However, emerging infrared technology under research could help the blind and visually impaired navigate the world around them using a pair of innovative goggles.

In new research recently published and yet to be peer-reviewed, Manuel Zahn and Armaghan Ahmad Khan at Germany’s Technical University of Munich explored how their 3D camera and haptic feedback armband can assist people with low vision.

“Even in the present era, visually impaired people face a constant challenge of navigation,” the pair wrote. “The most common tool available to them is the cane. Although the cane allows good detection of objects in the user’s immediate vicinity, it lacks the ability to detect obstacles further away.”

The two students’ design deploys two infrared cameras placed in a 3D-printed goggles prototype to get a stereoscopic view that is transformed by a small computer into a map of the user’s surroundings. The infrared gear also works in the dark. The armband then uses 25 actuators arranged in a grid that vibrates when users come close to objects while also assisting them in their orientation. As users walk near obstacles, the vibration intensity of the actuators increases.

In tests, subjects enjoyed roughly 98 percent accuracy while getting through obstacle pathways, with all five participants completing the course in their first run. After two additional runs, the volunteers were able to navigate the obstacles more rapidly.

Zahn and Khan frequently cited Microsoft’s Kinect motion detection system for the Xbox in their study, but the pair are confident that their own setup will be far smaller, cheaper and less conspicuous than the gaming device.

The new headset could offer an interesting opportunity for blind and partially sighted people to clear the myriad obstacles they face when performing regular tasks or navigating the world around them.

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Toddler Goes On $2000 Furniture-Shopping Spree On Mom’s Phone

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A New Jersey mom learned that keeping your browser open may not be the best idea as children, and even infants, become increasingly tech savvy.

Madhu Kumar was browsing Walmart’s furniture selection on their website and had added some items to her shopping cart but never checked out. She was shocked and confused when she started to receive a steady stream of packages from the big-box retailer.

Madhu immediately turned to her husband and two older children to find out who ordered the packages.

“I need one or two, why would we need four?” Madhu asked.

As it turned out, her toddler Ayaansh Kumar – who, at 22 months old, was barely learning to count – had gone on a $2,000 shopping spree while playing on his mother’s phone.

“It is really hard to believe that he has done this, but that’s what happened,” Ayaansh’s dad, Pramod Kumar, told NBC New York.

Among the packages were some that could barely be squeezed through the family’s front door at their home in Monmouth Junction.

Purchases included accent chairs, flower stands and a range of other household items that arrived throughout the week.

“He’s so little, he’s so cute, we were laughing that he ordered all this stuff,” his mom remarked.

From birth, young Ayaansh had observantly watched his family members engage in a range of activities from home – including shopping, attending classes, and going to school. And as it the case for many kids of his generation, he knows the basics of operating a smartphone.

The parents are still waiting for all of the boxes to arrive so that they can return them to their local Walmart. The retailer has already told the Kumars that they are eligible for a refund, but the parents plan to save at least a few items to remind them of their son’s first e-commerce adventure.

“Moving forward, we will put tough passcodes or face recognition so when he picks up the phone he finds it in locked condition,” his father said.

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