President Joe Biden released a statement on Sunday marking two years since former U.S. Navy diver Mark Frerichs went missing and was captured by the Taliban.
Biden’s full statement is below:
Two years ago tomorrow, U.S. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs was taken hostage in Afghanistan. A civil engineer, he spent a decade helping the people of Afghanistan. He has done nothing wrong. And yet, for two years the Taliban has held him captive.
Mark is a native of Illinois. A son. A brother. And his family has now endured two gut-wrenching years—praying for his safety, wondering where and how he is, aching for his return.
Threatening the safety of Americans or any innocent civilians is always unacceptable, and hostage-taking is an act of particular cruelty and cowardice. The Taliban must immediately release Mark before it can expect any consideration of its aspirations for legitimacy. This is not negotiable.
To Mark, and to all the Americans being held hostage and wrongfully detained overseas, and to all their families and friends who are enduring the nightmare of their absence: know that my administration will continue to work steadfastly until every American being unjustly held against their will comes home.
Charlene Cakora, Frerichs’ sister, said in a statement provided to American Military News, “My family is grateful for President Biden’s statement. This forceful recognition of Mark’s two years in Taliban custody is part of what we have sought from the Administration since they took office. But what we really want is to have Mark home. We know the President has options in front of him to make that happen and hope Mark’s safe return will become a priority for him personally.”
Frerichs was captured by Taliban-aligned militants on Jan. 31, 2020 in Afghanistan, according to Newsweek, who first reported the news in February 2020. U.S. officials believe the Haqqani network, which is a group aligned with the Taliban, orchestrated the operation. 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 civil engineer. Following his disappearance, Navy SEALs raided a village and detained suspected members of the Haqqani network, though they did not find Frerichs.
“The first 96 hours is crucial,” an anonymous senior U.S. government official briefed on the case told the Associated Press in May 2020. “If they’re not recovered in the first few days, it becomes harder every minute after.”
Shortly after Frerichs’ disappearance, the Taliban initially denied involvement, but later admitted having held Frerichs captive.
The Taliban have attempted to use Frerichs as a bargaining chip in exchange for the release of Afghan drug lord Bashir Noorzai, who was sentenced in 2009 for attempting to smuggle $50 million worth of heroin into the U.S., and is being held in a U.S. prison on a life sentence.
As recently as early January 2022, the Taliban pressed the Biden administration for Noorzai’s release in exchange for Frerichs’ release.
“We understand that the Taliban have been clear about what they want, repeatedly telling the US Government and media the same answer each time they were asked how Mark can come home. He is only being kept as a hostage because senior officials have not presented President Biden with a decision about taking action. Mr. President, please bring my brother home before it is too late,” Cakora said in a statement.
This article has been updated to correct inaccurate information obtained from external media reporting, which stated, “…and reportedly threatened to prevent tens of thousands of Afghans with U.S. citizenship from evacuating Afghanistan, Foreign Policy.” It has also been updated to include a statement from Frerichs’ sister, Charlene Cakora.