The Taliban released an American contractor in a drug smuggling exchange

the newYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

On Monday, the White House announced the release of an American contractor who had been held hostage in Afghanistan for more than two years in exchange for a Taliban drug leader imprisoned in the United States, declaring a rare success in talks between the United States and the Taliban since the movement took power. A little over a year ago

Mark Frerich, a former Marine who spent more than a decade in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor, was kidnapped in January 2020 and is believed to have been held since then by the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network. He was traded with Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban-linked convict of a heroin smuggling plot who spent 17 years behind bars before being released on Monday.

The exchange is considered one of the most significant prisoner exchanges under the Biden administration, five months after a deal with Russia that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reid. Although his case has received less public attention than that of some of the other Americans being held abroad, including WNBA star Britney Greiner and corporate security executive Paul Whelan — both of whom are being held in Russia and whose relatives met with President Joe Biden on Friday — US officials said that The Frerichs deal was the result of months of quiet negotiations.

Those discussions gained new momentum in June when Biden agreed to spare Norzai a life sentence, paving the way for what one administration official described as “a very narrow window of opportunity this month” to seal the deal.

This undated photo provided to the Associated Press shows Mark Frerich, an American civilian contractor and veteran who has been held by the Taliban for more than two years in Afghanistan. Frerich’s family says the Taliban released him. Frerich’s release appeared to be part of a quid pro quo and came as an imprisoned Taliban drug lord said on Monday he had been released from US custody. (Charlene Kakura via AP)
(Charlene Kakura via The Associated Press)

The Taliban frees the last American prisoner in Afghanistan in a prisoner exchange with the United States

“Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom to a successful resolution requires difficult decisions that I have not taken seriously,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

Frerichs, 60, was working on civil engineering projects at the time of his abduction on January 31, 2020 in Kabul. He is believed to have been lured to a meeting to discuss a new project and then transferred to Khost, the stronghold of the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network near the Pakistani border.

He was last seen in a video published by The New Yorker last spring, in which he appeared in traditional Afghan clothing and called for his release. A US official said that the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs accompanied him on Monday and was in stable health. His final destination was not immediately clear, although a Qatari foreign ministry official said Frisch would soon fly from Doha to the United States.

Fresh’s sister, who is from Lombard, Illinois, thanked the US officials who helped secure her brother’s release.

“I am so happy to hear that my brother is safe and on his way home. Our family has prayed for this every day for the more than 31 months he has been held hostage. We have never lost hope that he will survive,” her sister Charlene Kakura said in a statement. home safely.”

Nourzai, at the time of his arrest in 2005, was not an ideal recipient of presidential clemency. Listed as some of the world’s most prolific drug dealers, he was tried in Manhattan federal court on charges accusing him of owning opium fields in Kandahar province and relying on a network of distributors who sold heroin in New York.

Bashir Noorzai, a prisoner, speaks during his release ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, September 19, 2022. Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taliban, told reporters in Kabul on Monday that he had spent 17 years and six months In an American prison.  Taliban-appointed foreign minister Amir Khan Mottaki said Monday that the American released, in what appears to be part of an exchange, is Mark Friedrich, a Navy veteran and civilian contractor who was kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2020 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Bashir Noorzai, a prisoner, speaks during his release ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, September 19, 2022. Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taliban, told reporters in Kabul on Monday that he had spent 17 years and six months In an American prison. Taliban-appointed foreign minister Amir Khan Mottaki said Monday that the American released, in what appears to be part of an exchange, is Mark Friedrich, a Navy veteran and civilian contractor who was kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2020 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
(AP Photo/Ibrahim Norouzi)

When he was sentenced to life in prison, the then-highest federal prosecutor in Manhattan said that “Norzai’s global drug network supports the Taliban regime that has made Afghanistan a breeding ground for international terrorism.”

Monday’s deal highlighted the Taliban’s approach to illicit drugs. In April, they announced a ban on harvesting the opium poppies to make heroin – an order that also prohibits the manufacture and transportation of the drug. However, during the years-long Taliban insurgency, they reportedly earned millions of dollars by taxing farmers and middlemen who move their drugs out of Afghanistan.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity under the administration’s ground rules said the US government has now determined that Noorzai’s release “will not materially alter any risk to Americans or fundamentally alter the features of the drug trade there.” Officials also took into account that Noorzai spent 17 years in prison. They said it had become clear from the negotiations that his release would be necessary to bring Frerich home.

In a press conference on Monday, Noorzai expressed his gratitude for seeing his “brothers of the Mujahideen” – a reference to the Taliban – in Kabul.

“I pray for more success for the Taliban,” he added. “I hope this exchange will lead to peace between Afghanistan and America, because an American has been released and I am now free.”

Even before their takeover of Afghanistan in August last year, the Taliban demanded that Noorzai be released in exchange for Frerich. But there were few general indications that Washington was going along these lines.

“Everything about this case has been an uphill battle,” Eric Lipson, a former US national security official who has been advising the Frerich family, said in a statement. He criticized the Trump administration for giving up “our influence to bring Mark home quickly by signing a peace deal with the Taliban without ever asking them to bring Mark back first.”

“Mark’s family then had to navigate two departments, as many people saw Mark’s safe return as an obstacle to their plans for Afghanistan,” the statement said.

The United States donated $780 million to Afghanistan in aid

The collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government and the Taliban’s takeover of power in August 2021 raised additional concerns that progress in negotiations could be reversed or that Friedrich could be forgotten. But his name was cited last month when his advisers told Biden that he pressured officials to consider any danger to Friedrich over the drone strike in Afghanistan that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Taliban-appointed foreign minister Amir Khan Mottaki hailed Monday’s exchange as the start of a “new era” in US-Taliban relations and opening a “new door to talks.”

CLICK HERE FOR FOX NEWS APP

US officials have been more cautious. Administration officials said Monday, although it does not recognize the Taliban government, the United States has interests at stake in Afghanistan and will continue to engage with the Taliban in addressing the hunger and humanitarian crisis engulfing the country.

But officials say they remain concerned about whether the Taliban are committed to fighting terrorism and excluding girls from secondary schools there, an issue the United Nations reprimanded on Sunday.

___

Fayez reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Amer Madani in Washington contributed to this report.

___

This story corrected an account earlier in the day that cited Taliban claims that Noorzai is being held at Guantanamo Bay; This claim has been refuted by US officials.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.