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Biden gets US Navy vet freed from Taliban in exchange for Taliban drug lord

Mark Frerichs. (Photo courtesy of Charlene Cakora, sister of Mark Frerichs)
September 19, 2022

President Joe Biden’s administration announced on Monday morning it secured the release of U.S. Navy veteran and civil engineer Mark Frerichs, who has been held hostage by the Talian in Afghanistan since January 2020. Frerichs was freed in exchange for the U.S. release of Taliban drug lord Bashir Noorzai, who had been held in U.S. federal custody for 17 years.

“Mark Frerichs is now a free man after two and a half years as a hostage in Afghanistan,” a senior administration official said on Monday morning. “Mark has successfully and safely made it to Doha and into our care.”

Frerichs, 60, was officially released on Monday and is in “stable, solid” health, the senior administration official said.

Frerichs release was the result of months-long extensive negotiations with the Taliban. During those negotiations, it became clear that Noorzai’s release “became key to Mark’s overdue freedom,” the senior administration official said.

Biden had made the decision in June to release Noorzai in exchange for Frerichs’ release if it became clear a trade could confidently be made and carried out, the senior administration official explained. Since then, the administration had been working on the “careful logistical coordination” to carry out the trade.

Biden released the following statement on Frerichs’ release:

Today, we have secured the release of Mark Frerichs, and he will soon be home.  Mark was taken in Afghanistan in January, 2020 and held for 31 months.  His release is the culmination of years of tireless work by dedicated public servants across our government and other partner governments, and I want to thank them for all that effort.  I spoke with Mark’s sister today to share the good news and express how happy I am for Mark’s family.  Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom to a successful resolution required difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly.  Our priority now is to make sure Mark receives a healthy and safe return and is given the space and time he needs to transition back into society.  My Administration continues to prioritize the safe return of all Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, and we will not stop until they are reunited with their families. We have much more work to do in many other cases, but Mark’s release demonstrates our enduring commitment.  Like our work to free Americans held in Burma, Haiti, Russia, Venezuela, and elsewhere, it is our duty to do all we can to bring our people home.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also released a statement on Frerichs’ release:

After more than two years in captivity, U.S. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs is safe and on his way home from Afghanistan. I am grateful to our State Department team and to our broader national security professionals as well as to our partners in Qatar. Mark’s return to his loved ones is the result of intense engagement with the Taliban.

I have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans around the world. We will remain tireless in our efforts to seek the release of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained. Our commitment to bring Mark home never wavered, and it will never waver for the Americans who are held captive anywhere around the world. His release is a testament to that priority and our around-the-clock work to reunite our citizens with their loved ones.

Charlene Cakora, the sister of Mark Frerichs, released a statement Monday morning:

“I am so happy to hear that my brother is safe and on his way home to us. Our family has prayed for this each day of the more than 31 months he has been a hostage. We never gave up hope that he would survive and come home safely to us.”

“My brother is alive and safe because President Biden took action. There were some folks arguing against the deal that brought Mark home, but President Biden did what was right. He saved the life of an innocent American veteran.”

A video had emerged in April 2022 of Frerichs begging to be freed from captivity in November 2021. The video emerged around the same time as the Biden administration secured the release of U.S. Navy Reservist Safi Rauf, who was captured by the Taliban in December while providing humanitarian aid to Afghans in Kabul. The administration had said at the time that they continued to press for Frerichs’ release.