American held captive in Afghanistan released in prisoner swap


Mark Frerichs, an American held captive in Afghanistan for more than two years, has been released in a prisoner swap, a senior Biden administration official confirmed Monday.

“Bringing Mark home has been a top priority for President (Joe) Biden and his national security team,” the official said.

Haji Bashir Noorzai, a prominent member of the Taliban, who was in prison in the US on drug trafficking charges for 17 years, was granted clemency as part of the deal, the official said.

https%3A%2F%2Fprod.static9.net
Mark Frerichs, a US veteran and civilian contractor held for more than two years in Afghanistan by the Taliban, has been freed as part of a prisoner swap. (Charlene Cakora via AP) (AP)

Frerichs, a US Navy veteran from Illinois, was kidnapped in late January 2020 while he was doing construction contract work in Afghanistan.

He was believed to be held by the Haqqani network, which is a faction of the Taliban. He was missing for less than a month before the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban.

Frerichs was able to walk on his own onto the aircraft, a source familiar with the matter said, and his physical and mental condition appear good. He is currently in Doha, Qatar.

Frerichs’ family praised Biden for securing his release, with his sister, Charlene Cakora, saying in a statement, “there were some folks arguing against the deal that brought Mark home, but President Biden did what was right. He saved the life of an innocent American veteran.”

“I am so happy to hear that my brother is safe and on his way home to us. Our family has prayed for this each day of the more than 31 months he has been a hostage,” Cakora said. “We never gave up hope that he would survive and come home safely to us.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed Frerichs’s release and committed to working to free other Americans “arbitrarily and unjustly” detained abroad.

“Mark’s soon going to be reunited with his family,” said Blinken at the UN headquarters in New York. “The President had an opportunity to speak to them a few hours ago.”

https%3A%2F%2Fprod.static9.net
Haji Bashir Noorzai, a member of the Taliban who was jailed in the US on drug trafficking charges, was granted clemency as part of the deal to free American Mark Frerichs in Afghanistan. (Twitter)

Blinken said the US will “bring the same determination and focus” to freeing other Americans “arbitrarily and unjustly detained” abroad as was done for Frerichs.

“I want the families of Americans who are being arbitrarily detained or held hostage anywhere in the world to know that our commitment to them to bringing their loved ones home is resolute and we will relentlessly continue to focus on doing just that,” Blinken added.

A Taliban spokesman said the swap was secured through a constructive “dialogue” with the US.

“Through dialogue, understanding and interaction, the freedom of Haji Bashar and the release of an American citizen showed that good interaction and goodwill is the most effective way to solve cases,” spokesman of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid, tweeted.

“There can be no progress in relations with Afghans through force and pressure, but on the contrary understanding can do anything.”

Earlier this year, The New Yorker published a video of Frerichs pleading for his release – the first time he had been seen in years.

FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2021, file photo Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about refugee programs for Afghans who aided the U.S., during a briefing at the State Department in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool via AP, File)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden Administration was committed to working to free other Americans “arbitrarily and unjustly” detained abroad. (AP)

“I’ve been patiently waiting my release,” Frerichs says in the brief video, which he says is being recorded on November 28, 2021.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden Administration was committed to working to free other Americans “arbitrarily and unjustly” detained abroad.

Since her brother’s kidnapping, Cakora has called on the US government to do more to secure his release, escalating those calls in the lead-up to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration secured the release of Afghan-American Naval reservist Safi Rauf and his brother Anees Khalil, a US green card holder, who had been detained by the Taliban since December.

Months of negotiations

The Biden administration undertook months of negotiations with the Taliban to secure Frerichs’ freedom, a senior administration official said on Monday, and the President decided in June to grant clemency to Noorzai if it would lead to the captive American’s release.

The official said it became clear that releasing Noorzai was “the key to securing Mark’s overdue freedom,” but the decision on clemency for the Afghan drug trafficker was a “difficult” one.

The administration does not see an equivalency between Noorzai, who was carrying out a 17-year sentence in the US, and Frerichs. Noorzai was not held at Guantanamo Bay, despite reports saying he was, the official said.

“We consulted with experts across the US government, who assessed that Noorzai’s (release) to Afghanistan would not materially change any risk to Americans emanating from the country or the nature of the drug trade there,” the official said.

https%3A%2F%2Fprod.static9.net
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by a US drone strike in Kabul weeks before the release of Mark Frerichs. (AP)

“As we also said publicly at the time, we told the Taliban immediately after the strike, that we would hold them directly responsible if any harm were to come to Mark, and that the best way they might begin to rebuild trust with the United States, with the world, was to immediately release Mark,” the official said.

The official said the window of opportunity for the swap finally presented itself this month, and the administration “acted very quickly.” But they would not say where Frerichs had been held during his more than two years of captivity, nor would they say if the US had given the Taliban anything else for Frerichs’ release.

https%3A%2F%2Fprod.static9.net

How newspapers across globe commemorated the Queen’s funeral

Read the full article at: 9news.com.au


Leave a Comment