Charlene Cakora by way of AP
WASHINGTON — An American contractor held hostage in Afghanistan for greater than two years by the Taliban has been launched, his household stated Monday, as a Taliban drug lord jailed by america 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 might additionally contain the discharge of Bashir Noorzai, a infamous drug lord and member of the Taliban who informed reporters in Kabul on Monday that he had spent 17 years and 6 months in U.S. captivity earlier than being launched.
The choice to launch Noorzai was ‘troublesome’ however obligatory, an official says
The alternate is without doubt one of the most important prisoner swaps to happen below the Biden administration, coming 5 months after a separate take care of Russia that resulted within the launch of Marine veteran Trevor Reed. It happened regardless of considerations 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 carry him dwelling 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 response to 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 “troublesome determination” however obligatory with the intention to reunite a U.S. citizen together 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 completely happy to listen to that my brother is protected and on his means dwelling 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 dwelling safely to us,” stated a press release from the sister, Charlene Cakora.
In Afghanistan, Noorzai informed 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 alternate for an American prisoner held in Afghanistan whom he didn’t determine. Frerichs’ household subsequently confirmed that it was him.
Frerichs, 60, had been engaged on civil engineering tasks 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 by which he appeared in conventional Afghan clothes and pleaded for his launch. The publication stated it obtained the clip from an unidentified particular person in Afghanistan.
2 presidential administrations labored on Frerichs launch
Till Monday, U.S. officers throughout two presidential administrations had tried unsuccessfully to get him dwelling. Even earlier than their takeover of Afghanistan in August final yr, the Taliban had demanded the U.S. launch Noorzai in alternate for Frerichs. However there had been no public signal of Washington continuing with any form of commerce or alternate alongside these traces.
Eric Lebson, a former U.S. authorities nationwide safety official who had been advising Frerichs’ household, stated in a press release that “the whole lot about this case has been an uphill combat.” He criticized the Trump administration for having given away “our leverage to get Mark dwelling shortly 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 seen Mark’s protected return as an obstacle to their plans for Afghanistan,” the assertion stated.
The collapse of the Western-backed Afghan authorities and takeover by the Taliban in August 2021, raised further concern that any progress in negotiations could possibly be undone or that Frerichs could possibly be forgotten.
However his identify surfaced final month when President Joe Biden, who had publicly known as for Frerichs’ launch, was stated by his advisers to have pressed officers to contemplate any danger 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 alternate, saying it marked the beginning of a “new period” in U.S.-Taliban relations.
“This is usually a new chapter between Afghanistan and america, this may open a brand new door for talks between each international locations,” Muttaqi stated on the presser.
“This act exhibits us that each one issues might be solved by talks and I thank either side’ groups who labored so exhausting for this to occur,” he added.
The Taliban additionally posted a short video Monday on social media displaying Noorzai’s arrival on the Kabul airport the place he was welcomed by prime 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 alternate can result in peace between Afghanistan and America, as a result of an American was launched and I’m additionally free now.”