World NewsUS contractor freed by Taliban in swap for drug trafficker

US contractor freed by Taliban in swap for drug trafficker

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An American contractor held hostage in Afghanistan for greater than two years has been launched in alternate for a convicted Taliban drug lord jailed in the US, the White Home stated Monday, saying a uncommon success in U.S.-Taliban talks for the reason that militant group took energy somewhat greater than a 12 months in the past

Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran who had spent greater 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 community. He was traded for Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban affiliate convicted in a heroin trafficking conspiracy who had spent 17 years behind bars earlier than his launch Monday.

The alternate is likely one of the most vital prisoner swaps to happen below the Biden administration, coming 5 months after a take care of Russia that introduced dwelling Marine veteran Trevor Reed. Although his case has obtained much less public consideration than these of another Individuals held overseas, together with WNBA star Brittney Griner and company safety govt Paul Whelan — who’re each held in Russia and whose family members met with President Joe Biden on Friday — U.S. officers stated the deal for Frerichs was the results of months of quiet negotiations.

These discussions gained new momentum in June when Biden agreed to grant Noorzai reduction from his life sentence, setting the stage for what one administration official described as a “very slender window of alternative this month” to finish the deal.

This undated photograph offered to The AP exhibits Mark Frerichs, a U.S. veteran and civilian contractor held greater than 2 years in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Frerichs household says he has been freed by the Taliban. Frerichs’ launch seems to have been a part of a swap and got here as an imprisoned Taliban drug lord additionally stated on Monday he had been free of American custody. (Charlene Cakora by way of AP)
(Charlene Cakora by way of AP))

TALIBAN FREES LAST AMERICAN PRISONER IN AFGHANISTAN IN PRISONER SWAP WITH THE US

Biden stated in an announcement launched by the White Home, “Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom to a profitable decision required tough selections, which I didn’t take flippantly.”

Frerichs, 60, had been engaged on civil engineering tasks on the time of his Jan. 31, 2020 abduction in Kabul. He’s believed to have been lured into a gathering to debate a brand new challenge after which transported to Khost, a stronghold of the Taliban-linked Haqqani community close to the Pakistan border.

He was final seen in a video posted final spring by The New Yorker by which he appeared in conventional Afghan clothes and pleaded for his launch. He was accompanied Monday by the administration’s particular presidential envoy for hostage affairs and was in secure well being, a U.S. official stated. His final vacation spot was not instantly clear, although a Qatari International Ministry official stated Frerichs would quickly head from Doha to the U.S.

A sister of Frerichs, who’s from Lombard, Illinois, thanked U.S. officers who helped safe her brother’s launch.

“I’m so completely happy to listen to that my brother is secure and on his manner dwelling to us. Our household has prayed for this every day of the greater than 31 months he has been a hostage. We by no means gave up hope that he would survive and are available dwelling safely to us,” stated an announcement from the sister, Charlene Cakora.

Noorzai, on the time of his 2005 arrest, hardly appeared a perfect recipient for presidential clemency. He’d been designated on an inventory reserved for a few of the world’s most prolific drug traffickers, and was prosecuted in Manhattan’s federal court docket on expenses that accused him of proudly owning opium fields in Kandahar province and counting on a community of distributors who offered the heroin in New York.

Bashir Noorzai, prison, speaks during his release ceremony, at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taliban, told reporters in Kabul on Monday that he spent 17 years and six months in a U.S. prison. Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said Monday that a released American, in what appears to have been part of a swap, was Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran and civilian contractor kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Bashir Noorzai, jail, speaks throughout his launch ceremony, on the Intercontinental Lodge, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. Noorzai, a infamous drug lord and member of the Taliban, instructed reporters in Kabul on Monday that he spent 17 years and 6 months in a U.S. jail. Taliban-appointed International Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi stated Monday {that a} launched American, in what seems to have been a part of a swap, was Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran and civilian contractor kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2020. (AP Photograph/Ebrahim Noroozi)
(AP Photograph/Ebrahim Noroozi)

When he was sentenced to life imprisonment, the then-top federal prosecutor in Manhattan stated Noorzai’s “worldwide narcotics community supported a Taliban regime that made Afghanistan a breeding floor for worldwide terrorism.”

Monday’s deal underscored the 2 sides to the Taliban’s strategy to unlawful medication. In April, they introduced a ban on harvesting the poppies that produce opium for making heroin — an order that additionally outlawed the manufacture and transportation of narcotics. Nonetheless, through the years-long Taliban insurgency, they reportedly made hundreds of thousands of {dollars} taxing farmers and center males who moved their medication outdoors Afghanistan.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on situation of anonymity below floor guidelines set by the administration stated the U.S. authorities now decided that Noorzai’s launch would “not materially change any danger to Individuals or basically alter the contours of the drug commerce there.” Officers additionally took under consideration that Noorzai had spent 17 years in jail. They stated it turned clear from negotiations that releasing him could be essential to get Frerichs dwelling.

At a press convention Monday, Noorzai expressed gratitude at seeing his “mujahedeen brothers” — a reference to the Taliban — in Kabul.

“I pray for extra success of the Taliban,” he added. “I hope this alternate can result in peace between Afghanistan and America, as a result of an American was launched and I’m additionally free now.”

Even earlier than their takeover of Afghanistan in August final 12 months, the Taliban had demanded the U.S. launch Noorzai in alternate for Frerichs. However there had been little public indication of Washington continuing alongside these strains.

Eric Lebson, a former U.S. authorities nationwide safety official who had been advising Frerichs’ household, stated in an announcement that “every part about this case has been an uphill combat.” He criticized the Trump administration for having given away “our leverage to get Mark dwelling shortly by signing a peace accord with the Taliban with out ever having requested them to return Mark first.”

“Mark’s household then needed to navigate two administrations, the place many individuals considered Mark’s secure return as an obstacle to their plans for Afghanistan,” the assertion stated.

U.S. DONATED $780 MILLION TO AFGHANISTAN IN AID

The collapse of the Western-backed Afghan authorities and takeover by the Taliban in August 2021 raised further concern that progress in negotiations might be undone or that Frerichs might be forgotten. However his identify was invoked final month when Biden was stated by his advisers to have pressed officers to contemplate any danger posed to Frerichs by the drone strike in Afghanistan that killed al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri.

The Taliban-appointed overseas minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, hailed the alternate Monday as the beginning of a “new period” in U.S.-Taliban relations and the opening of a “new door for talks.”

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U.S. officers had been extra circumspect. Although it doesn’t acknowledge the Taliban authorities, the U.S. does have pursuits at stake in Afghanistan and can proceed to have interaction with the Taliban in addressing the starvation and humanitarian disaster gripping the nation, administration officers stated Monday.

However officers say they continue to be involved about whether or not the Taliban are dedicated to combating terrorism and by the exclusion of women from excessive faculties there, a problem that drew a United Nations reprimand on Sunday.

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Faiez reported from Islamabad. Related Press author Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.

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This story has corrected a model earlier within the day that cited Taliban claims that Noorzai was held at Guantanamo Bay; the declare was disproved by U.S. officers.

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