Apr 1, 2022 - World

Taliban releases American aid worker detained in Afghanistan

Taliban standing guard

Taliban fighter stands guard at ceremony in Kabul on March 31. Photo: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP via Getty Images

An American citizen and his brother who were detained in Afghanistan since Dec. 18 have been released and are heading home to the United States via Qatar, the State Department confirmed Friday.

The big picture: Safi Rauf, the U.S. citizen, and his brother Anees Khalil, a British citizen with an American green card, were detained by the Taliban while engaged in licensed humanitarian aid work. They have been held in Afghanistan for 105 days as a result of what Rauf called a "misunderstanding."

Background: Rauf, a former Afghan refugee who came to the U.S. and later joined the U.S. Navy Reserves, is a founder of the Human First Coalition.

  • The organization helped evacuate Afghans after the fall of Kabul and provides humanitarian aid on the ground in Afghanistan.
  • In October, Human First Coalition helped secure the evacuation of an Afghan interpreter who assisted then-Sen. Joe Biden when his helicopter was forced to land in a snowstorm in Afghanistan in 2008.

What they're saying: In a statement confirming his release, Rauf thanked the U.S., British and Qatari governments as well as his team at Human First Coalition "and countless friends, in country, in the region, and all over the world."

  • "At this time, we are looking forward to reuniting with our family and loved ones and ultimately, I hope we can continue to advocate for and seek ways to serve the Afghan people in this critical time of need in Afghanistan," Rauf said.
  • "Unjustly holding Americans captive is always unacceptable, and we will not stop until every American who is being unjustly held against their will is able to hug their families once again," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement confirming Rauf and Khalil's release.

The big picture: The Taliban is still believed to be holding U.S. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs, who was detained in January 2020.

  • On Friday, the New Yorker published a "proof of life" video appearing to show Frerichs asking the Taliban to release him. Frerichs says in the 30-second video that it was filmed on Nov. 28, 2021.
  • President Biden said on the two-year anniversary of Frerichs' disappearance that the Taliban must release him "before it can expect any consideration of its aspirations for legitimacy."
  • The Taliban have reportedly offered to free Frerichs in exchange for the release of Afghan drug kingpin Bashir Noorzai, who is serving out a life sentence in the U.S.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from the State Department and additional details on Mark Frerichs.

Go deeper