An American contractor held hostage in Afghanistan for more than two years has been released in exchange for a convicted Taliban drug lord jailed in the United States, the White House said Monday. The announcement is a rare feat in U.S.-Taliban talks since the militant group took power over a year ago.
Military Times reports:
Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran who had spent more than a decade in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor, was abducted in January 2020 and is believed to have been held since then by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. He was traded for Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban associate convicted of heroin trafficking in 2008 who had spent 17 years behind bars before his release Monday.
The exchange is one of the most significant prisoner swaps to take place under the Biden administration, coming five months after a separate deal with Russia that resulted in the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed. Frerichs’ family and other advocates had feared that the U.S. military departure from Afghanistan, and the rise of the Taliban to power, would make it harder to bring him home and would deflect attention away from his imprisonment.
U.S. officials across two presidential administrations had tried unsuccessfully to bring Frerichs home. His case has received less public attention than those of other Americans held abroad, including WNBA star Brittney Griner and Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan, who are both held in Russia and whose relatives met with Biden on Friday.
Discussions gained new momentum in June when President Joe Biden granted Noorzai relief from his life sentence, setting the stage for what one administration official described as a “very narrow window of opportunity this month” to carry out the deal.
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.”
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