Ernst Blasts Biden’s Release of US Tax Dollars to Aid Taliban’s ‘Endangered Species’ Efforts

By Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Congressional Correspondent
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.
January 26, 2022Updated: January 26, 2022

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) says President Joe Biden is compounding the tragedy of the bungled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by approving unspecified amounts of U.S. foreign aid for “endangered species” programs through the Taliban and Haqqani terrorist networks that now control the war-torn country.

“After ordering a hasty and disastrous retreat from Afghanistan last August, the Biden administration has now authorized the flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars back into the country through the Taliban and the Haqqani Islamic Terrorist Network,’ Ernst said in a Jan. 25 statement.

“Among the activities these tax dollars are intended to support is ‘the preservation and protection of threatened or endangered species,’ which include four plants, a salamander, and one insect in Afghanistan,” Ernst said.

“There is no question the people of Afghanistan are suffering terribly from widespread famine and human rights abuses and desperately need help. But, the Biden administration has not put protections in place to prevent this new U.S. assistance from ending up in the hands of terrorists, just like when billions of dollars of weapons and supplies were handed over to the Taliban following Biden’s poorly planned and mishandled withdrawal.”

The Biden authorizations were issued by the U.S. Treasury Department. A White House spokesman didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment. No dollar amounts are mentioned in the authorizations.

Earlier this month, however, White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson Emily Horne said the authorizations would include $308 million to be distributed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through independent humanitarian groups. Such groups working in Afghanistan must do so with the approval of the Taliban-dominated government.

The new aid is to include “protection and shelter, essential health care, winterization assistance, emergency food aid, water, sanitation, and hygiene services in response to the growing humanitarian needs exacerbated by COVID-19 and healthcare shortages, drought, malnutrition, and the winter season,” Horne said.

“In addition, the United States is providing the people of Afghanistan one million additional COVID-19 vaccine doses through COVAX, bringing our total to 4.3 million doses.”

Notably absent from Horne’s statement was any mention of the aid for endangered species activities. Ernst pointed to a 2009 media report concerning Afghanistan’s first listing of endangered species, including “snow leopards, wolves, and brown bears, but also lesser-known species such as the paghman salamander, goitered gazelle, and Himalayan elm tree,” as well as the unnamed insect.

Horne said the latest authorizations bring total U.S. humanitarian assistance provided to Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal in August to $782 million since October 2021. The U.S. also left behind more than $80 billion worth of sophisticated military equipment, including helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, munitions, rifles and firearms, artillery, night-vision equipment, uniforms, and sophisticated electronic gear.

U.S. aid to Afghanistan has long been the subject of criticism due to that country’s historic corruption and the massive inflow of American dollars, with too little accountability for who received it and how it was spent.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko said in an Aug. 16, 2021, report—titled “What We Need to Learn” from the 20-year U.S. effort—that the costly program failed.

“Effectively rebuilding Afghanistan required a detailed understanding of the country’s social, economic, and political dynamics. However, U.S. officials were consistently operating in the dark, often because of the difficulty of collecting the necessary information,” Sopko said.

“The U.S. government also clumsily forced Western technocratic models onto Afghan economic institutions; trained security forces in advanced weapon systems they could not understand, much less maintain; imposed formal rule of law on a country that addressed 80 to 90 percent of its disputes through informal means; and often struggled to understand or mitigate the cultural and social barriers to supporting women and girls.

“Without this background knowledge, U.S. officials often empowered powerbrokers who preyed on the population or diverted U.S. assistance away from its intended recipients to enrich and empower themselves and their allies. Lack of knowledge at the local level meant projects intended to mitigate conflict often exacerbated it, and even inadvertently funded insurgents.”

Ernst said she was awarding her latest “Squeal Award” to the Biden administration “whose carelessness is once again putting taxpayers’ dollars within the grasp of terrorists in Afghanistan.”

The Iowa Republican also joined a group of 16 GOP senators in a Jan. 16 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen seeking a complete accounting of all U.S. financial assistance to Afghanistan since August 2021.

The Biden authorizations prompted concern from Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who told The Epoch Times on Jan. 26 that the administration claims the actions are based on language that is routinely used by U.S. officials dealing with foreign crisis situations.

“The administration will tell you they picked this language because it is ‘standard’ OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] licensing language used in other similar crisis contexts,” he said. “But the situation in Afghanistan is distinct and has a long-tortured history of foreign aid oversight challenges. Failure to recognize this raises even more concerns with how these decisions are being made.”