What would you do if you were taken captive after you lent a hand to benefit other people? This is the story of Mark Frerichs: an abducted American pleading for his release as a victim of decades-long insurgency operations crewed by terrorist organizations. He is entering his second year of confinement by the Taliban– and he is now pleading for his freedom.

Frerichs, 60, a civil engineer and contractor from Lombard, Illinois, was taken hostage in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, in January of 2020. 

Mark Frerichs was speaking in a video release. (Screenshot taken from source: The New Yorker)

When he was taken hostage, Frerichs was purportedly working on development projects in Afghanistan for the benefit of the Afghan people, according to the US Department of State. It is reported that he is being held by the Haqqani network, which has ties to the Taliban. Before the incident, Frerichs was a member of the US Navy.

One week after Frerichs’ disappearance in Kabul Province, a news outlet stated that US intelligence officers were able to track Frerichs’ mobile phone and conducted a search of a community in the vicinity of where he was last seen. Unfortunately, the raid was fruitless even though they effectively rounded up that village’s residents.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced a one-million-dollar reward on May 10, 2020, for intelligence that may help propel Frerichs’s release or recovery. Additionally, the Rewards for Justice Program was offering a reward of five million dollars for details that could lead to the victim’s discovery or whereabouts.

Plea for Liberty

 

A media agency obtained a dramatic video of Frerichs asking for his freedom in Afghanistan, dating back to November 28, 2021, with the source wishing to remain anonymous. Frerichs appeared to be reading from a script as he spoke.

“I’ve been patiently waiting for my release.” 

Frerichs is shown seated throughout the video while dressed in traditional Afghan clothing and sporting a short trimmed beard. At the end of the video, he makes a straightforward appeal, expressing his appreciation for the chance to communicate with people outside captivity. He pleads with them to let him go so he can be with his family again.

“Release me so that I may be reunited with my family. Thank you,” he said.

His family has stated that they do not doubt that the person speaking in the video is, in fact, Frerichs and that this is evidence that he is still alive after two years since his disappearance.

Government officials have stated that the video is currently being evaluated, that US envoys have repeatedly brought up Frerichs’ case with the Taliban, and that Sullivan plans to meet with Frerichs’ sister, Charlene Cakora, in person in April.

The Call

Frerichs’s family has expressed enormous dissatisfaction over the fact that two consecutive presidents, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, have managed to negotiate and accomplish the pullout of other American soldiers from Afghanistan without effectively earning the release of the Navy veteran. According to Cakora, head officials from both the Biden administration and the Trump administration have turned down the opportunity to speak with her to discuss the plea to liberate his brother. Cakora submitted a request to the White House in the spring of 2020 to talk with former President Trump about the situation, but the White House declined her petition.

Attempts made in 2021 to confer with either President Biden or Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, were also not successful. Cakora stressed that she believed the video release was the “first sign of progress” since the two presidents had given up on Frerichs following the conclusion of the twenty-year war in Afghanistan, according to the media agency.

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The White House

President Biden spoke with President Ghani today, affirming U.S. support for continued development, humanitarian, and security assistance in Afghanistan and for a political settlement that lets the Afghan people live in peace. (Source: The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Before the video’s release, Ned Price of the US Department of State released a statement in the second year of his abduction saying that Frerichs’ freedom is the state’s “core and non-negotiable priorities.” Price promised that the government would keep sending a strong message to the Taliban, which amounts to: “immediately and safely release Mark and disavow the practice of hostage-taking.

In line with this, despite Cakora’s claims that the Biden administration abandoned his brother’s case, his release has been campaigned for by US President Biden and US senators Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth who urged the White House to make his safe return a top priority.

“The Taliban must immediately release Mark before it can expect any consideration of its aspirations for legitimacy. This is not negotiable,” Biden noted in January.

However, Cakora remains disgruntled as she claims that statements made by Biden are “not enough.”

She also called on the administration to not leave Frerichs behind. According to reports, the Taliban are requesting a prisoner exchange with the US for convicted drug lord Bashir Noorzhai. 

(A previous version of this article correctly stated Frerich was kidnapped in Kabul but placed it in Khost province in error. Kabul is both the capital and name of the province)