WASHINGTON (AP) – An American contractor held hostage in Afghanistan for more than two years by the Taleban has been released, his family said yesterday, as a Taleban drug lord jailed by the United States (US) was also freed and returned to Kabul.
Navy veteran Mark Frerichs, who had spent more than a decade in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor, was abducted in January 2020 and was believed to have been since then by the Taleban-linked Haqqani network.
Negotiations for his release had centred on a deal that would also involve the release of Bashir Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taleban who told reporters in Kabul yesterday that he spent 17 years and six months in US captivity. The Biden administration did not immediately confirm details of the prisoner swap, but a sister of Frerichs, who is 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 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,” 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 in the day to the Taleban in Kabul, in exchange for an American prisoner held in Afghanistan whom he did not identify.
Other Taleban officials claimed Noorzai was held at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but did not offer to say anything to support that claim.
The Taleban-appointed foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, also spoke at the press conference alongside Noorzai and welcomed the exchange, saying it marked the start of a “new era” in US-Taleban relations.
Frerichs, abducted on January 31, 2020, was last seen in a video earlier this year, pleading for his release to be reunited with his family, according to a recording posted by The New Yorker magazine at the time.