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Mark Frerichs exchanged for Taliban warlord Bashir Noorzai in Kabul



correction

An earlier model of this text incorrectly mentioned Bashir Noorzai had been held in Guantánamo Bay. He was serving his life sentence in a federal penitentiary. The article has been corrected.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Mark Frerichs, an American contractor held captive by the Taliban since his abduction in Kabul in 2020, was freed in trade for an Afghan imprisoned on drug trafficking costs in the US, U.S. and Afghan officers mentioned Monday.

Frerichs’s household hailed his launch, saying they had been “grateful and excited” to study he had been let out after greater than 2½ years in militant captivity.

“Our household has prayed for this every day,” Charlene Cakora, Frerichs’s sister, mentioned within the assertion from Camden Advisory Group, which had been advocating for his launch. “We by no means gave up hope that he would survive and are available dwelling safely to us.”

President Biden applauded the discharge of Frerichs, who U.S. officers mentioned was in U.S. care in Doha, Qatar. “Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom to a profitable decision required troublesome choices, which I didn’t take flippantly,” the president mentioned in an announcement.

U.S. officers mentioned Frerichs’s launch capped months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Taliban, the rebel group that has ruled Afghanistan since August 2021, when the US withdrew from the nation.

U.S. plan to withdraw from Afghanistan prompts fears that U.S. hostage held by Taliban will be left behind

To acquire his freedom, an official mentioned, the U.S. authorities launched detainee Bashir Noorzai (also referred to as Haji Bashir Noorzai), a warlord with ties to the Taliban who was sentenced to life in federal prison for drug trafficking after being lured to the US and arrested in 2005.

In Kabul, performing Afghan international minister Amir Khan Muttaqi hailed Noorzai’s launch. “This can open a brand new chapter within the bilateral relations between the US and Afghanistan,” he mentioned at a information convention that was broadcast by native tv retailers.

“We’ve been persistent in our efforts to free [Noorzai], and now he’s with us in his personal nation,” Muttaqi continued. He mentioned the 2 males had been swapped at Kabul’s worldwide airport.

Celebration, uncertainty and fear grip Kabul one year on

Senior U.S. officers, who spoke to reporters on the situation of anonymity to debate delicate negotiations, mentioned Frerichs was in “secure well being” and was being supplied U.S. assist. They declined to supply particulars on the place Frerichs was stored throughout his lengthy captivity.

Frerichs’s launch illustrates the fragile path the Biden administration should tread in its dealings with Afghanistan’s new leaders, whom the US fought for 20 years earlier than they took over after the collapse of the U.S.-backed authorities.

The USA, like different nations, has not formally acknowledged the Taliban as Afghanistan’s authorities, however U.S. officers have engaged with it often as they search to supply support to Afghans in want and advocate for the rights of ladies and ladies because the group imposes new restrictions on them.

The Frerichs deal comes weeks after the US performed a drone strike in downtown Kabul that killed al-Qaeda’s top militant, a growth that highlighted the Taliban’s ongoing ties to terrorist organizations and posed a significant setback to the potential normalization of U.S. ties with Afghanistan’s new leaders.

One U.S. official mentioned the Biden administration instructed Taliban leaders after that strike that “we might maintain them immediately accountable if any hurt had been to come back to Mark, and that one of the simplest ways they may start to rebuild belief with the US with the world was to instantly launch him.”

“If the Taliban are as as they are saying they’re in regular relations with the worldwide group, then that apply should resolutely finish,” one other official mentioned, referring to hostage-taking.

Officers mentioned there was a “slim window of alternative” following Biden’s preliminary choice this summer time to doubtlessly grant Noorzai clemency. They contrasted the conviction of Noorzai, who was alleged to have been distributing heroin in the US for the reason that Nineties, with the truth that Frerichs hadn’t been tried for any crime.

The swap will not be the primary the US has undertaken in Afghanistan. In 2014, the Obama administration authorised the trade of 5 senior Afghans held on the Guantánamo Bay jail for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, then a Taliban hostage. Different People kidnapped in Afghanistan have escaped or been freed.

The officers declined to say whether or not different U.S. residents at the moment are being held by the Taliban. Final month, the Committee to Shield Journalists mentioned an American filmmaker and an Afghan producer had been taken into Taliban custody. It was not instantly clear whether or not they had been nonetheless being held.

The discharge of Frerichs comes because the Biden administration makes an attempt to safe the discharge of two People it says are being wrongly held by Russia, potentially via another prisoner swap.

In July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned officers had made Moscow a “substantial proposal” to safe the discharge of basketball star Brittney Griner and businessman Paul Whelan. The supply was believed to incorporate the discharge of convicted Russian arms seller Viktor Bout, who’s imprisoned in the US. On Monday, the Russian authorities accused Washington of holding up talks to safe their releases.

Laurel Miller, who served as a senior official for Afghanistan throughout the Obama and Trump administrations, mentioned that whereas Frerichs’s launch was a constructive growth, it wouldn’t essentially result in progress on different points the US has cited as impediments to fuller world assist of the Taliban authorities, like permitting all ladies to return to highschool.

“It’s very troublesome to see that this solves any issues within the U.S.-Taliban relationship apart from the particular downside of Frerichs being wrongfully held as a hostage,” she mentioned. “This was a transactional trade.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Sick)., whose workplace has described Frerichs as an “Illinoisan,” mentioned she had been advocating for his launch for the reason that Trump administration. In a cellphone interview, she mentioned she had urged the Biden administration to free Noorzai, arguing that the Afghan prisoner is aged and sick.

“He’s being stored alive at taxpayers’ expense; we’re offering his well being care,” Duckworth mentioned she instructed U.S. officers. “And I’d relatively have Mark come dwelling.”

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

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