US and Taliban Exchange Prisoners: Engineer is Released in Exchange for Drug Lord
An American engineer kidnapped in Afghanistan nearly three years ago has been released by the Taliban as part of a prisoner swap. In exchange, the US has released a drug lord and financier of the Taliban who had been locked up in a US cell for 17 years.
Mark Frerichs, 60, a US Navy veteran, was working in Afghanistan as an engineer on construction projects when he was kidnapped in February 2020, a year and a half before the Taliban took power, according to the US.
He was believed to have been kidnapped by the extremist Haqqani network, one of the mainstays of the Taliban, which the US has labelled a terrorist organization.
The US has long pushed for Frerichs’ release, even after US troops left Afghanistan in August 2021. Frerichs would have been the last American detained in Afghanistan.
He has now been released in exchange for Haji Bashir Noorzai, who was arrested in the US in 2005 on charges of smuggling $50 million worth of heroin.
Noorzai was a financier of the Taliban during their first stint in power in the 1990s. He is said to have managed large opium plantations in Kandahar, the traditional heartland of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. He was sentenced to life in the US. According to Afghan state media, he was imprisoned in the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Noorzai was welcomed at Kabul airport today. In a TV speech, he said he hoped his release would bring Kabul and Washington closer together. The US does not recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan.