After being imprisoned for more than two years, US Navy veteran Mark Frerichs was finally released by the Taliban after lengthy, intense negotiations with the current administration.
The Taliban previously denied having Frerichs on their hands. Still, after negotiations involving a prisoner swap for a vital associate of the Afgan rulers, the veteran was released and admitted to having been captive since 2020.
Two Years in Captivity, Now Free
“Today, Mark Frerichs was handed over to the US, and Haji Bashir was handed over to us at Kabul airport,” said Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Acting Afghan Foreign Minister, on Monday.
Bashir Noorzai was a notorious drug lord and Taliban member who had spent 17 years and six months in US captivity. The Afghan druglord was held at the infamous US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, according to Muttaqi, to which a senior Biden administration official firmly debunked.
Frerichs, a Navy veteran from Illinois, served as a civil engineer contractor in Afghanistan when he was kidnapped in late January 2020—less than a month before the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban. According to news reports, he was believed to be held by the Haqqani network, a faction of the Afgan rulers.
As previously stated, the Taliban flatly denied having him captive; however, the New Yorker Magazine obtained a video earlier this year confirming the Navy veteran’s current situation, in which he can be seen pleading for his release.
“Please, release me… release me so that I may be reunited with my family. Thank you,” Frerichs said in the video taken back in November.
The successful prisoner swap was confirmed by US officials involved in the negotiations, who added that the Navy veteran appeared physically and mentally stable as he boarded the plane on his own.
Following Frerichs release, President Joe Biden personally relayed the good news to the engineer’s family and assured them that he would be given the “space and time he needs to transition back into society.”
Mark Frerichs is coming home after two and half years in captivity in Afghanistan. Thank you to our diplomats, national security professionals, and partners in Qatar for your work to secure his release.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) September 19, 2022
Meanwhile, Charlene Cakora thanked the administration for securing the release of his brother amid “some folks arguing against the deal that brought Mark home,” Cakora said in a statement. “[B]ut President Biden did what was right. He saved the life of an innocent American veteran.”
Cakora continued: “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. We never gave up hope that he would survive and come home safely to us.”
A Druglord Released, Now What?
In exchange for the Navy veteran’s freedom was the release of a Taliban member who was also a known drug lord. Will his release pose a threat to the Americans?
No, it won’t—at least not in the country’s drug trade.
The release of Noorzai would not “materially” pose any risk. Furthermore, according to Afghan government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, the Afghan inmate held “no official position in the Taliban.” However, since the movement’s inception in the 1990s, he has “provided strong support, including weapons.”
#Islamic #Emirate foreign minister honors release of a member after at least 18 years during a ceremony in Kabul, #Afghanistan, on September 19, 2022. The #US released Bashir Noorzai in a prisoner exchange for Mark Frerichs, an #American engineer outside of Afghanistan. #AMA pic.twitter.com/fIE7cO6t8n
— Afghan Multimedia Agency (@AgencyAfghan) September 20, 2022
During the earlier days of the negotiations, the administration had claimed that it “does not see any equivalency” between the release of a 17-year captive Noorzai and Frerichs. But after consulting experts across the US government, the administration pushed through with the prisoner exchange.
Noorzai’s release makes him the second Afghan inmate released recently, following Assadullah Haroon. After being accused of working for al-Qaeda, the latter was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for 15 years. Before his arrest in 2006, Haroon worked as a honey trader, and his release was not contingent on a deal with the Taliban.
Does the Taliban Hold More Americans?
Most likely. But officials won’t confirm how many still are trapped in the confines of the Taliban.
According to another senior administration official, the US would continue making necessary dialogue with the Taliban while simultaneously asserting to end hostage-taking if they are to gain recognition by the international community.
“In terms of what this means for our broader engagement with the Taliban, we will continue to make clear that taking hostages—that’s the activity of terrorist and criminal groups. And if the Taliban is as interested as they say they are in normal relations with the international community, then that practice must resolutely end,” a senior official said.
Last month, the Taliban reportedly kidnapped American journalist and independent filmmaker Ivor Shearer and Afghan producer Faizullah Faizbakhsh while filming in Kabul’s Sherpur district—where a US drone strike killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri earlier in August.
Two journalists are still out of contact after being detained and blindfolded for filming on the main Sherpur road in Kabul yesterday.
American Ivor Shearer and his Afghan colleague.
They had all accreditation to work as journalists in Afghanistan
— Emma Graham-Harrison (@_EmmaGH) August 18, 2022
During the press briefing after Frerichs release, senior administration officials told reporters that they were aware of the matter, “but I don’t have more for you on that right now.”
Nevertheless, it is good to know Mark Frerichs will be reunited with his family after two years. To the Navy veteran, welcome home!