After nearly two and a half years as a prisoner of the Taliban, Mark Frerichs, engineer and US Navy veteran, gained his freedom in a prisoner exchange at Kabul International Airport between the United States and the Taliban. The American was the last captive left behind following the Biden administration’s chaotic retreat from Afghanistan more than a year ago. To secure Frerichs’ Sept. 19 release, President Joe Biden commuted the life sentence of Taliban confederate Bashir Noorzai, the leader of a heroin-smuggling operation convicted in 2008. The drug thug, after his release, told reporters in Kabul that he had been in US custody for 17 years.
Prisoner Exchange After 31 Months
The 60-year-old Frerichs, a contract employee working on civil engineering assignments in Afghanistan, was captured in January 2020. At the time, American officials had little information regarding what group took Frerichs, an Illinois native. He “was lured to a meeting to discuss a potential work project, US officials have said, and then allegedly transferred to the custody of the Haqqani network,” The Wall Street Journal explained. The US designated the Haqqani network a terrorist organization in 2012. However, the abduction prompted a vigorous response by the Trump administration. Following Frerichs’ capture, a Navy SEAL commando operation raided a village and held members of the Haqqani network suspected of taking the American, AP reported at the time.
Unfortunately, the SEAL operation was not successful. Repatriating kidnap victims is often difficult, requiring dealings with Afghan warlords and insurgent groups. The captors who first abduct victims are not always the ones who keep them for ransom. There is a market in kidnappings, and victims may be sold several times among insurgent and terrorist groups. Now that Frerichs is back with his family, more information regarding his captivity will be released.
The Taliban’s willingness to agree to the prisoner swap likely did not come from charitable intentions. Its government is in dire financial straits, so it may hope releasing Frerichs will improve its negotiations to gain access to billions of dollars in assets frozen by the United States belonging to the former Afghanistan government.
“The Biden administration and the United Nations are working to release the funds in an effort to stabilize the Afghan economy, which has all but collapsed under Taliban rule and Western sanctions. Humanitarian organizations have warned that the Afghan people may face hunger in the impending winter,” according to Fox News.
Prisoner Exchange Gives US Leverage
To the casual observer, the Taliban’s inability to successfully govern the country it was so hellbent on capturing could be seen by the White House as an opportunity to obtain diplomatic and human rights concessions. For example, the Biden foreign policy team could leverage the release of billions to demand a demonstrable change in the treatment of Afghan women, which has regressed to the time when the Taliban’s reign of terror on the Afghan people was at its peak 21 years ago. Furthermore, the Taliban is not honoring its agreement to identify and eliminate terrorist groups within its borders. The recent US killing of an Al-Qaeda leader in the middle of Kabul is evidence the Taliban is aiding terrorists.
Americans should celebrate with the Frerichs family and friends at the safe return of their loved one. Their days and nights of fear and not knowing are over. His release is a first in the win column dealing with the Taliban for the Biden administration still in the shadow of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle. Leveraging the country’s frozen assets could lead to more successes for the United States.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.