A Taliban drug kingpin who had been detained in US government custody since his detention 17 years ago was exchanged for an American contractor who had been held hostage in Afghanistan since 2020.
Veteran of the US Navy and civilian contractor Mark Frerichs was kidnapped in Kabul two years ago, and it was thought the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network was keeping him captive.
On Monday, a representative of the Biden administration verified Frerichs’ release.
The insider told CNN that “bringing Mark home has been a major priority for President Biden and his national security staff.”
Charlene Cakora of Lombard, Illinois, who is Frerichs’ sister, thanked the government for helping to liberate her brother.
“I was very relieved to learn that my brother was okay and was headed back to our house. For the more than 31 months that he has been a hostage, our family has prayed for this every day. We never lost faith that he would live and return to us safely, Cakora’s family said in a statement.
Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban official who was recently freed, was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty in 2005 of smuggling heroin worth $50 million into the US from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Noorzai claimed to reporters in Kabul that he had been freed from an unnamed US jail, but other Taliban leaders claimed that he had actually been imprisoned at a Guantanamo Bay detention centre.
The exchange of prisoners signalled a “new era” in relations with the US, according to the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi.
“This can be a new chapter between Afghanistan and the United States, this can open a new door for talks between both countries,” Muttaqi said at a news conference in Kabul alongside Noorzai.
“This act shows us that all problems can be solved through talks and I thank both sides’ teams who worked so hard for this to happen,” Muttaqi continued.
He said the swap happened at the Kabul airport.