Sep 19, 2022 - World

Taliban release American Mark Frerichs in prisoner swap

Bashar Noorzai (C), a warlord and Taliban associate attends press event at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on September 19, 2022.
Bashir Noorzai attends a press event at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on Sept. 19. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs, who was kidnapped in Afghanistan two years ago, was released Monday by the Taliban in an exchange with Afghan drug kingpin Bashir Noorzai, a senior Biden administration official confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: Frerichs, who worked as a contractor for a decade before his kidnapping, is the last remaining American known to be held hostage in Afghanistan, Axios' Zachary Basu reports.

Driving the news: Frerichs was exchanged at the Kabul airport with Noorzai, a drug lord who was serving out a life sentence in the U.S., acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said at a news conference, Reuters reports.

  • "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is ready to solve problems by negotiation with all, including the United States," Muttaqi said, per Reuters.
  • "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," President Biden said in a statement.
  • "Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom to a successful resolution required difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly," he said.

The big picture: The U.S. had been calling for the Taliban to release Frerichs "before it can expect any consideration of its aspirations for legitimacy," Biden said earlier this year.

  • The Taliban had previously offered to release Frerichs in exchange for Noorzai, who was sentenced in 2009 to life in prison on drug and conspiracy charges.
  • The Biden administration "will continue to work intensively ... to bring home all Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad and Mark’s successful release is evidence of our commitment," the senior administration official said.

What he's saying: "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," Biden said.

  • "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," he added.
  • "We have much more work to do in many other cases, but Mark’s release demonstrates our enduring commitment."

Go deeper... One year on: Afghanistan in anguish

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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