Matt Frerichs, held hostage by the Taliban for 2 years, has been released : NPR
Charlene Cakora via AP
WASHINGTON — An American entrepreneur held hostage in Afghanistan for more than two years by the Taliban has been freed, his family announced Monday, as a Taliban drug lord jailed by the United States was also freed and returned to Kabul.
Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran who had spent more than a decade in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor, was abducted in January 2020 and has since been reportedly held by the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network.
Negotiations for his release centered on a deal that would also involve the release of Bashir Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taliban who told reporters in Kabul on Monday that he had spent 17 years and six months in military captivity. United States before being released. .
Decision to release Noorzai was ‘difficult’ but necessary, official says
The swap is one of the largest prisoner swaps to take place under the Biden administration, coming five months after a separate deal with Russia resulted in the release of Navy veteran Trevor Reed. This took place despite concerns from his family and other advocates that the departure of the US military from Afghanistan and the collapse of the government there could make it more difficult for him to return home and divert attention from his imprisonment.
President Joe Biden, who is in the UK to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, called Frerichs’ family on Monday morning to share the “good news” that his administration was able to secure his release, according to a senior official. administration.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, called the decision to grant Noorzai clemency a “difficult decision” but necessary to reunite a US citizen with his family. .
A sister of Frerichs, originally from Lombard, Illinois, thanked US government officials who helped secure her brother’s release.
“I am so happy to hear that my brother is safe and coming home. Our family has prayed for this every day for over 31 months since he was hostage. We have never given up on the hope he survives and return home safely,” said a statement from the sister, Charlene Cakora.
In Afghanistan, Noorzai told reporters at a press conference that he had been released from an unspecified US prison and handed over earlier today to the Taliban in Kabul, in exchange for an American prisoner held in Afghanistan. which he did not identify. Frerichs’ family later confirmed that it was him.
Frerichs, 60, was working on civil engineering projects at the time of his abduction on January 31, 2020 in Kabul. He was last seen in a video posted last spring by the new yorker in which he appeared in traditional Afghan clothing and pleaded for his release. The publication said it obtained the clip from an unidentified individual in Afghanistan.
2 presidential administrations worked on the release of Frerichs
Until Monday, US officials from two presidential administrations had tried unsuccessfully to bring him home. Even before their takeover of Afghanistan in August last year, the Taliban had demanded the American release of Noorzai in exchange for Frerichs. But there had been no public sign of Washington engaging in any sort of trade or exchange along these lines.
Eric Lebson, a former U.S. government national security official who advised Frerichs’ family, said in a statement that “everything about this has been an uphill battle.” He blamed the Trump administration for ceding “our leverage to bring Mark home quickly by signing a peace deal with the Taliban without ever asking them to bring Mark back first.”
“Mark’s family then had to navigate between two administrations, where many people saw Mark’s safe return as an obstacle to their plans for Afghanistan,” the statement said.
The collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government and the Taliban takeover in August 2021 raised further concern that any progress in the negotiations could be reversed or that Frerichs could be forgotten.
But his name surfaced last month when President Joe Biden, who had publicly called for Frerichs’ release, was told by his advisers that he had pressed officials to consider any risk posed to Frerichs by the drone attack in Afghanistan. who killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
Taliban-appointed foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi also spoke at the Kabul press conference alongside Noorzai and welcomed the exchange, saying it marked the start of a “new era” in US-Taliban relations.
“It can be a new chapter between Afghanistan and the United States, it can open a new door for talks between the two countries,” Muttaqi told the presser.
“This act shows us that all issues can be resolved through talks and I thank the teams on both sides who have worked so hard to make this happen,” he added.
The Taliban also posted a brief video Monday on social media showing Noorzai arriving at Kabul airport where he was greeted by senior Taliban officials, including Muttaqi.
At the press conference, Noorzai expressed his gratitude to see his “mujahideen brothers” – a reference to the Taliban – in Kabul.
“I pray for more success from the Taliban,” he added. “I hope this exchange can lead to peace between Afghanistan and America, because an American has been freed and I am also free now.”