Biden comments on US hostage in Afghanistan released in prisoner swap

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Mark Frerichs – the last known American hostage to be held by the Taliban – has been released in a prisoner swap, President Joe Biden confirmed in a statement Monday.

“His release is the culmination of years of tireless work by dedicated officials in our government and other partner governments, and I want to thank them for all those efforts,” Biden said.

The Taliban confirmed at a news conference in Kabul Monday that Frerichs of Lombard, Illinois, has been released in a prisoner swap for a high-ranking Taliban prisoner and notorious drug lord Bashir Noorzai. Government officials said Noorzai was being held in a federal prison in the United States, but not in Guantanamo Bay, as reported.

Without going into the details of the negotiations, Biden acknowledged: “Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom to a successful conclusion required difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly.”

This undated photo provided to TBEN shows Mark Frerichs, a US veteran and civilian contractor who has been detained in Afghanistan by the Taliban for more than 2 years.

Charlene Cakora via TBEN

The 60-year-old US Navy veteran and contractor, who “worked in Afghanistan for more than a decade on various civil engineering projects,” was abducted in Kabul in January 2020 after being lured to what he believed was a new company meeting — but which turned out to be a horrific ruse, relatives and officials have said. He has been detained in Afghanistan for 31 months.

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“I spoke with Mark’s sister today to share the good news and express how happy I am for Mark’s family,” Biden said.

Charlene Cakora, Frerichs’ sister, has long pleaded desperately with Biden for her brother’s release.

“I don’t think anyone can come home with their heads held high until every rock has been turned,” she told TBEN in an exclusive interview in June 2021, as the US military completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan and Frerichs was the man left behind.

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On Monday, Cakora said that despite “some people arguing against the deal that brought Mark home”, her brother was alive again because “President Biden took action”. She also credited Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin for his successful return.

Duckworth and Durbin have yet to comment on the release of their constituents.

“We are grateful to President Biden, Secretary Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Senators Duckworth and Durbin for their efforts to free Mark. Senator Duckworth became personally involved and tirelessly advocated within our administration to get him home,” Cakora said.

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“President Biden did the right thing. He saved the life of an innocent American veteran.”

“My administration continues to prioritize the safe return of all Americans held hostage or wrongly held abroad, and we will not stop until they are reunited with their families,” Biden said in his statement. “We have a lot more work to do in many other cases, but Mark’s release demonstrates our abiding commitment. Like our work to free Americans held in Burma, Haiti, Russia, Venezuela and elsewhere, it is our duty to doing everything we can to bring our people home.”

Molly Nagle and Luis Martinez of TBEN News contributed to this report.

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