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Home World News Washington Post World News US Applauds Taliban Prisoner Release After Prisoner Swap

US Applauds Taliban Prisoner Release After Prisoner Swap



An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Bashir Noorzai was being held in Guantanamo Bay. He was serving his life sentence in a federal prison. The article has been corrected.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Mark Frerichs, a US contractor who has been held captive by the Taliban since his kidnapping in Kabul in 2020, has been released in exchange for an Afghan imprisoned in the United States for drug trafficking, US and Afghan officials said Monday.

Frerichs’ family welcomed his release, saying they were “grateful and excited” to hear that he had been released after more than 2½ years in militant captivity.

“Our family has prayed for this every day,” Frerichs’ sister Charlene Cakora said in a statement from Camden Advisory Group, which had called for his release. “We never gave up hope that he would survive and make it to our home safely.”

President Biden welcomed the release of Frerichs, who, according to US officials, was under US care in Doha, Qatar. “Bringing to a successful solution the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom required difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly,” the president said in a statement.

US officials said Frerichs’ release ended months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Taliban, the insurgent group that has ruled Afghanistan since August 2021, when the United States withdrew from the country.

US plan to withdraw from Afghanistan raises fears US hostage held by Taliban will be left behind

To gain his freedom, an official said, the US government has released detainee Bashir Noorzai (aka Haji Bashir Noorzai), a warlord with ties to the Taliban who was sentenced to life in federal prison for drug trafficking after coming to the United States. States was lured. and arrested in 2005.

In Kabul, acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi praised Noorzai’s release. “This will open a new chapter in bilateral relations between the United States and Afghanistan,” he said at a press conference broadcast by local television channels.

“We are persistent in our efforts to liberate” [Noorzai], and now he is with us in his own country,” Muttaqi continued. He said the two men had been switched at Kabul International Airport.

Celebration, uncertainty and fear grip Kabul a year later

Senior US officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations, said Frerichs was in “stable health” and US aid was being offered. They declined to give details of where Frerichs was held during his long captivity.

Frerichs’ release illustrates the delicate path the Biden administration must take in dealing with the new leaders of Afghanistan, whom the United States fought for 20 years before taking over after the collapse of the US-backed government.

The United States, like other countries, has not officially recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, but US officials have been in regular contact with it as they seek to provide aid to Afghans in need and advocate for the rights of women and girls while the group put new restrictions on them.

The Frerichs deal comes weeks after the United States carried out a drone strike in central Kabul that killed Al-Qaeda’s top militant, a development that highlights the Taliban’s ongoing ties to terrorist organizations. and constituted a major setback to the potential normalization of US ties with the new Afghan government. leaders.

A US official said the Biden administration told Taliban leaders after that strike that “we would hold them directly accountable if anything happened to Mark, and that the best way to restore trust with the United States with the world was to release him immediately.”

“If the Taliban are as interested as they say they have normal relations with the international community, then that practice must resolutely stop,” another official said, referring to hostage-taking.

Officials said there was a “small window of opportunity” following Biden’s first decision this summer to potentially pardon Noorzai. They contrasted the conviction of Noorzai, who has allegedly been distributing heroin in the United States since the 1990s, with the fact that Frerichs had not been tried for any crime.

The swap is not the first the United States has undertaken in Afghanistan. In 2014, the Obama administration authorized the exchange of five senior Afghans held in Guantanamo Bay prison for US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, then a Taliban hostage. Other Americans kidnapped in Afghanistan have escaped or been released.

The officials declined to say whether other US citizens are now being held by the Taliban. Last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists said an American filmmaker and an Afghan producer had been taken into custody by the Taliban. It was not immediately clear whether they were still being held.

Frerichs’s release comes as the Biden administration attempts to secure the release of two Americans it believes are being wrongfully held by Russia, possibly through another prisoner swap.

In July, Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken said officials had made a “substantial proposal” to Moscow to secure the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and businessman Paul Whelan. The offer would include the release of convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is imprisoned in the United States. On Monday, the Russian government accused Washington of suspending talks to secure their release.

Laurel Miller, who was a senior official for Afghanistan during the Obama and Trump administrations, said that while Frerichs’ release was a positive development, it would not necessarily lead to progress on other issues that the United States has cited as impediments to fuller action. global support of the Taliban government, such as allowing all girls to go back to school.

“It is very difficult to see that this will solve all the problems in the relationship between the US and the Taliban, except for the specific problem of Frerichs being wrongly held as a hostage,” she said. “This was a transaction exchange.”

sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill), whose office Frerichs has described as an “Illinoisan,” said she had advocated his release since the Trump administration. In a telephone interview, she said she had urged the Biden administration to release Noorzai, arguing that the Afghan detainee is elderly and in poor health.

‘He is being kept alive at the taxpayer’s expense; we provide his health care,” Duckworth told US officials. “And I’d rather Mark come home.”

George reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Ryan reported from Washington. Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

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