Household of American Vet Says He Was Freed by Taliban in Swap

WASHINGTON — An American contractor held hostage in Afghanistan for greater than two years by the Taliban has been launched, his household mentioned Monday, as a Taliban drug lord jailed by the US was additionally freed and returned to Kabul.

Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran who had spent greater than a decade in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor, was kidnapped in January 2020 and was believed to have been held since then by the Taliban-linked Haqqani community.

Negotiations for his launch had centered on a deal that will additionally contain the discharge of Bashir Noorzai, a infamous drug lord and member of the Taliban who instructed reporters in Kabul on Monday that he had spent 17 years and 6 months in U.S. captivity earlier than being launched.

The change is likely one of the most important prisoner swaps to happen beneath the Biden administration, coming 5 months after a separate cope with Russia that resulted within the launch of Marine veteran Trevor Reed. It befell regardless of issues from his household and different advocates that the U.S. navy departure from Afghanistan, and the collapse of the federal government there, might make it tougher to deliver him residence and will deflect consideration away from his imprisonment.

President Joe Biden, who’s within the U.Ok. to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, known as Frerichs’s household on Monday morning to share the “excellent news” that his administration was in a position to safe his launch, in keeping with a senior administration official.

The official, who was not licensed to remark publicly and spoke on the situation of anonymity, known as the choice to grant Noorzai clemency a “tough determination” however obligatory in an effort to reunite a U.S. citizen along with his household.

A sister of Frerichs, who’s from Lombard, Illinois, thanked U.S. authorities officers who helped safe her brother’s launch.

“I’m so joyful to listen to that my brother is protected and on his means residence to us. Our household has prayed for this every day of the greater than 31 months he has been a hostage. We by no means gave up hope that he would survive and are available residence safely to us,” mentioned a press release from the sister, Charlene Cakora.

In Afghanistan, Noorzai instructed reporters at a press convention that he had been launched from an unspecified U.S. jail and handed over earlier within the day to the Taliban in Kabul, in change for an American prisoner held in Afghanistan whom he didn’t establish. Frerichs’ household subsequently confirmed that it was him.

Frerichs, 60, had been engaged on civil engineering initiatives on the time of his Jan. 31, 2020 abduction in Kabul. He was final seen in a video posted final spring by The New Yorker i n which he appeared in conventional Afghan clothes and pleaded for his launch. The publication mentioned it obtained the clip from an unidentified particular person in Afghanistan.

Till Monday, U.S. officers throughout two presidential administrations had tried unsuccessfully to get him residence. Even earlier than their takeover of Afghanistan in August final yr, the Taliban had demanded the U.S. launch Noorzai in change for Frerichs. However there had been no public signal of Washington continuing with any kind of commerce or change alongside these traces.

Eric Lebson, a former U.S. authorities nationwide safety official who had been advising Frerichs’ household, mentioned in a press release that “the whole lot about this case has been an uphill battle.” He criticized the Trump administration for having given away “our leverage to get Mark residence rapidly by signing a peace accord with the Taliban with out ever having requested them to return Mark first.

“Mark’s household then needed to navigate two Administrations, the place many individuals considered Mark’s protected return as an obstacle to their plans for Afghanistan,” the assertion mentioned.

The collapse of the Western-backed Afghan authorities and takeover by the Taliban in August 2021, raised extra concern that any progress in negotiations could possibly be undone or that Frerichs could possibly be forgotten.

However his title surfaced final month when President Joe Biden, who had publicly known as for Frerichs’ launch, was mentioned by his advisers to have pressed officers to contemplate any threat posed to Frerichs by the drone strike in Afghanistan that killed al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri.

The Taliban-appointed overseas minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, additionally spoke on the Kabul press convention alongside Noorzai and welcomed the change, saying it marked the beginning of a “new period” in U.S.-Taliban relations.

“This generally is a new chapter between Afghanistan and the US, this will open a brand new door for talks between each international locations,” Muttaqi mentioned on the presser.

“This act reveals us that every one issues might be solved by way of talks and I thank each side’ groups who labored so laborious for this to occur,” he added.

The Taliban additionally posted a short video Monday on social media exhibiting Noorzai’s arrival on the Kabul airport the place he was welcomed by high Taliban officers, together with Muttaqi.

On the press convention, Noorzai expressed thankfulness at seeing his “mujahedeen brothers” — a reference to the Taliban — in Kabul.

“I pray for extra success of the Taliban,” he added. “I hope this change can result in peace between Afghanistan and America, as a result of an American was launched and I’m additionally free now.”


Faiez reported from Islamabad. Related Press author Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.

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