A senior official in the Biden administration confirmed Monday that Mark Frerichs, an American who has been held in Afghanistan for more than two decades, was released in a prisoner exchange.
According to the official, “Bringing Mark home was a top priority for President Biden’s national security team.”
According to the official, Haji Bashir Noorzai (a prominent Taliban member) was released under the terms of the deal. He was being held in US prison on drug trafficking charges for 17 years.
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Frerichs, an Illinois Navy veteran, was abducted in January 2020 as he was working in Afghanistan on construction contracts. The Haqqani network, a Taliban faction, was believed to have taken Frerichs. He was reported missing less than a month prior to the US signing a peace agreement with the Taliban.
Frerichs was able, according to a source, to get on the plane by himself. His mental and physical health are good. He is currently in Doha (Qatar).
Frerichs’ family thanked Biden for securing Frerichs’ release. His sister Charlene Cakora said in a statement that “there were some people arguing against the deal which brought Mark home, however, President Biden did what was right.” He saved the life and liberty of an innocent American veteran.
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“I am so happy that my brother is safe, and on his way back to us. “Our family has prayed for him every day he’s been held hostage for more than 31 months,” Cakora stated. “We didn’t give up on the hope that he would make it to safety and return home.”
The New Yorker published an earlier video of Frerichs pleading for Frerichs’ release. This was the first time Frerichs had been seen in years.
Frerichs states, “I’ve been patiently awaiting my release,” in the short video. He says that it was recorded November 28, 2021.
Cakora, her brother’s abductor, has been calling on the US to do more for his release. is escalating these calls as the US prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2021.
The Biden administration secured earlier this year the release of Safi Rauf, an Afghan-American Naval Reservist, and Anees Khalil (a US green card holder), who were detained by Taliban since December.
According to a senior administration official, the Biden administration engaged in months-long negotiations with Taliban to secure Frerichs’ freedom. In June, the President granted clemency for Noorzai if it led to the release of the captive American.
The official spoke on a conference call with reporters and stated that it was clear that Noorzai’s release was “the key” to Mark’s long-awaited freedom. However, the decision on clemency was difficult for the Afghan drug dealer.
Noorzai was serving a 17-year US sentence and the administration doesn’t see a logical equivalent between Frerichs and Noorzai. According to the official, Noorzai wasn’t held at Guantanamo bay, despite reports claiming he was.
The official stated that experts from all over the US had assessed Noorzai’s release to Afghanistan as not significantly changing any American risk or the nature and extent of drug trade in Afghanistan.
After Biden had made his decision about Noorzai, President Obama authorized the strike that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul.
The official stated that they had also told the Taliban, immediately after the strike, to hold them responsible for any harm to Mark and that it was the best way to rebuild trust with the United States and the world to release Mark.
An official said that the opportunity to swap was finally available this month and that the administration “acted very fast.” However, they wouldn’t say where Frerichs was held over his two-years of captivity nor if the US had offered anything else to Frerichs’ freedom.
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Another senior administration official stated that the US would continue to emphasize to the Taliban the need to end hostage-taking if they want to be recognized by the international community.
First official wouldn’t say whether the Taliban are holding other Americans hostage. The first official said that they knew about the case of American filmmaker Ivor Sharer and his producer. They were both detained in August by the Taliban according to the Committee to Protect Journalists but didn’t provide any further details.