Former Navy diver Mark Frerichs is still missing since he was captured in January, after the Taliban claimed it did not have him in its custody.
“We don’t have any information about the missing American,” said the Taliban’s political spokesman, Sohail Shaheen, the Associated Press reported.
The Taliban’s statement was confirmed by a second official in the terrorist group, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity. The Taliban notified U.S. officials “formally and informally” that they are not holding Frerichs, the second source reportedly said.
Frerichs was reportedly captured by Taliban-aligned militants on Jan. 31 in Afghanistan. U.S. officials believe the Haqqani network, which is a group aligned with the Taliban, orchestrated the operation, according to Newsweek. The CIA once backed the Haqqani network because it fought against Soviet attempts to establish a satellite state in Afghanistan.
Frerichs was working in Afghanistan as a freelance engineer. He was captured just a month before the United States, Afghanistan, and the Taliban struck a peace deal that would see the end of the U.S. military’s combat mission. U.S. forces have been in the country for nearly two decades.
Following Frerichs disappearance, Navy SEALs raided a village and detained suspected members of the Haqqani network.
“The first 96 hours is crucial,” an anonymous senior U.S. government official briefed on the case told the AP. “If they’re not recovered in the first few days, it becomes harder every minute after.”
The cold winter weather made it much more difficult for the U.S. military to search the landscape for Frerichs, but once it cleared they were able to conduct a search for him, although it was ultimately unsuccessful.
Public discussion of Frerichs’ disappearance stalled due to peace talks with the Taliban. The U.S. government also stopped reporting the number of Taliban-led attacks in Afghanistan, something they have never done, apparently in order to quell pressure to respond to the terrorist group.
The Taliban took credit for an attack on May 4 against an Afghani government military post. Reuters reported that the Taliban has conducted 4,500 attacks in Afghanistan, adding that there has been a 70 percent increase in attacks between March 1 and April 15 compared to the same period a year ago.
Although the Pentagon is no longer releasing the number of attacks publicly, spokesman Army Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell said the data will be released when the information is “no longer integral” to the discussions regarding the Taliban’s adherence to the peace agreement.
Frerichs’ father, Art, expressed faith in President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“I just need them to tell their people negotiating with the Taliban that America won’t lift a finger until my son comes home. He’s a veteran. This is America. We don’t leave people behind,” he said in a statement.
This article was updated to correct inaccurate information obtained from external media reporting. American Military News originally identified Mark Frerichs as a Navy SEAL when he is actually a Navy diver. The original report also stated, “Frerichs was working in Afghanistan as a freelance engineer at International Logistical Support,” which was corrected to read, “Frerichs was working in Afghanistan as a freelance engineer.”