An FBI poster seeks information and offers a $5 million reward for the return of American Mark Frerichs after he disappeared in February 2020. He was kept in captivity until his release on Monday, Taliban officials said. Image courtesy FBI
Sept. 19 (BP) — An American contractor who’s been held in Afghanistan for more than two years will soon be on his way home after a prisoner swap with an Afghan drug lord, relatives and Taliban officials said Monday.
The Taliban, which has ruled Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal a year ago, released contractor Mark Frerichs on Monday, according to Frerichs’ family. He’d been in captivity since 2020.
Frerichs was swapped for Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan tribal leader and accused drug trafficker who’s been in U.S. custody since 2005. He was serving a life sentence in the United States.
Frerichs is a Navy veteran who’d been living and working in Kabul for about a decade when he was abducted.
The Taliban also said that Frerichs had been traded and released.
“Honorable Haji Bashir was released after two decades of imprisonment and arrived in Kabul today,” Mohammad Naeem, the Taliban’s Qatar-based political office spokesman, said according to Tolo News.
The U.S. State Department didn’t immediately acknowledge Frerichs’ release, but the Taliban also said that he’d been freed and turned over to U.S. officials at the Kabul airport.
Noorzai said after arriving in Kabul Monday that he expects the prisoner swap to ease tensions between the Taliban in Afghanistan and the United States.
The U.S. government had demanded Frerich’s release from the beginning. In January, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that he’d long worked as a civilian in Afghanistan on public construction projects.
“The United States has raised Mark’s case in every meeting with the Taliban, and we have been clear that the legitimacy the Taliban seek is impossible to consider while they hold a U.S. citizen hostage,” Price said in a statement at the time.
“His release is among our core, non-negotiable priorities. We will continue to send a clear message to Taliban leadership: immediately and safely release Mark and disavow the practice of hostage-taking.”
Meanwhile, the families of other Americans who are being jailed abroad are hoping for a similar resolution.
WNBA star Brittney Griner has been held in Russia since February and was convicted on drug charges last month and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony — and former Marine Paul Whelan has been held there since 2018 on espionage charges.
Last week, the White House said that President Joe Biden plans to meet soon with relatives of both Griner and Whelan.