Biden swaps Taliban drug lord for US contractor held in Afghanistan

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AN American contractor kept hostage in Afghanistan since 2020 has been released in a prisoner swap for a Taliban drug lord who had been held in US government custody since his capture 17 years ago.

Mark Frerichs, a US Navy veteran and civilian contractor, was abducted two years ago in Kabul where it was believed he was held captive by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.

A Biden administration official confirmed Frerichs’ release on Monday.

“Bringing Mark home has been a top priority for President Biden and his national security team,” the official told CNN.

​​Frerichs’ sister, Charlene Cakora, of Lombard, Ill., thanked the government for working to free her brother.

“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,” ​Cakora s​aid ​in ​a statement.​

The Taliban official released, Bashir Noorzai, ​was convicted in 2005 of smuggling $50 million worth of heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan into the US and was serving a life sentence.

Noorzai told reporters in Kabul that he had been released from an unspecified prison in the US, but other Taliban officials said he had been held at a detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, said the prisoner exchange marked a “new era” in relations with the US.

“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.

The release of Frerichs​, ​who was abducted on Jan. 31, 2020, had been the topic of negotiations between US and Taliban officials as part of the ongoing talks in Doha, the capital of Qatar, to reach an agreement to remove American troops from Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported.

An administration official told the newspaper that President Biden’s decision to release Noorzai in exchange for was “difficult.”