The United States has released an Afghan drug lord in a prisoner swap with the Taliban that released US Navy veteran Mark Frerichs who had been held in Afghanistan since 2020. The prisoner swap came more than a year after the Taliban took over the Afghan capital during the U.S. troop withdrawal in August 2021.
This prisoner swap deal led to the release of Haji Bashir Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and Taliban member who spent more than 17 years in US captivity.
His release is seen as a matter of concern by the security services of many countries, including India. Noorzai’s release is believed to trigger a spike in cross-border drug trafficking.
Noorzai is a tribal leader in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province who once owned poppy fields and heroin production labs and oversaw a global drug operation. US officials have described him as the “Pablo Escobar of Asia’s heroin trade”, comparing him to a notorious Colombian drug lord.
He was arrested in the US in 2005, where his lawyers said he planned to talk to federal officials. It is not clear in what capacity he was communicating with US authorities at the time.
Noorzai was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 after being convicted in federal court in Manhattan, with Justice Department prosecutors accusing him of possessing opium fields in Kandahar province and relying on a network of distributors in New York selling the heroin. sold.
At the time of his sentencing, the then top federal prosecutor in Manhattan said Noorzai’s global narcotics network supported a Taliban regime that turned Afghanistan into a breeding ground for international terrorism.
Noorzai was accused of having close ties to the late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar. According to the United States, he supported the Taliban financially in exchange for the flourishing of his drug trade.