US swaps prisoners with Taliban
US President Joe Biden on Monday announced the release of Mark Frerichs, a US Navy veteran who disappeared in Kabul in 2020 while working as a civilian contractor. Meanwhile, the Taliban government of Afghanistan reported the return of Haji Bashir Noorzai, who spent 17 years in American prison on charges of heroin trafficking.
“Today, we have secured the release of Mark Frerichs, and he will soon be home,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. He thanked “dedicated public servants across our government and other partner governments” for “years of tireless work” to secure the release of Frerichs, who had been in Taliban captivity since January 2020.
Biden did not mention the release of Noorzai, only that negotiating the release of Frerichs “required difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly.”
Meanwhile, the Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi announced that Frerichs and Noorzai were exchanged at Kabul International Airport.
“We welcome the release of Haji Bashir, an Afghan who spent 17 years in the US,” Muttaqi told reporters, adding that this would “open a new chapter in the bilateral relations between the US and Afghanistan.”
Noorzai was lured to the US, arrested on charges of heroin trafficking, and sentenced to life in federal prison in 2005. The Taliban had outlawed the cultivation of poppies – from which heroin is extracted – before the US invasion in 2001, and did so again after regaining power last year.
The US-backed government collapsed even before the last American troops were out of Afghanistan, causing a frenzied evacuation from the airport in Kabul that ended on August 31, 2021. Biden has refused to recognize the Taliban government and has seized the assets of the Afghan central bank.