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Newsweek: Taliban kidnapped an American contractor in Afghanistan

Convoy of U.S. vehicles during operations in Afghanistan's Paktika Province, October 11, 2007. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Micah E. Clare)
February 06, 2020

A Taliban-affiliated militant group kidnapped a U.S. contractor working in Afghanistan last week, according to a report first published by Newsweek on Wednesday.

Mark R. Frerichs, 57, of Lombard, Illinois was kidnapped last Friday in the Khost province of southeast Afghanistan, according to unnamed U.S. officials who spoke to Newsweek. Frerichs was a former U.S. Navy diver and the managing director for International Logistical Support, which is a U.S. government contractor.

The Taliban has not yet formally claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, though U.S. officials reportedly believe Frerichs was kidnapped by the group’s Haqqani network.

U.S. officials indicated they are not sure how Frerichs was kidnapped, but that he has gone missing. The FBI, as well as the Departments of Defense and State, have all begun a joint effort to find and recover him.

U.S. forces have reportedly been carrying out efforts to locate Frerichs despite navigating Afghanistan’s difficult mountainous topography and weather conditions that have hindered the assistance of U.S. overhead drone surveillance.

The Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, an FBI-led multi-agency task force, is reportedly leading the efforts to find Frerichs. The task force was reportedly established in 2015 by former President Barack Obama, following the ISIS kidnapping and beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Officials for the task force would not publicly confirm their recovery efforts when Newsweek asked for a comment.

“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We have no further comment,” said Holly Jensen, a spokeswoman for the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.

A Defense Department spokesman also reportedly referred Newsweek questions to the State Department.

Scott Olson, who served as a legal attache for the FBI in Baghdad, Iraq told Newsweek that the FBI carries out the primary efforts of negotiating in a kidnapping situation.

As of 2018, the hostage recovery task force had reportedly returned more than 180 U.S. citizens captured by various terror organizations around the world.

One recent hostage case was resolved in November when the U.S. released three members of the Haqqani network in exchange for a U.S. citizen and an Australian citizen. At the time, President Donald Trump indicated hope that the exchange would earn goodwill towards efforts at an Afghan peace agreement, which faltered in September.

U.S. efforts towards a peace agreement with the Taliban have seen numerous additional stops and starts in recent months. In December, talks appeared to be progressing once again before the Taliban reportedly staged an attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan, prompting the U.S. to suspend talks again.

More recently, Trump indicated he would not agree to a peace deal without “demonstrable evidence” that the Taliban had reduced its violent activities throughout Afghanistan.