Biden decided to release an Afghan leader accused of drug trafficking, in order to exchange with the Taliban and help American engineer Frerichs return home.
The Taliban government’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, announced today that the Taliban have freed American engineer Mark Frerichs in exchange for Bashir Noorzai, a tribal leader detained by Washington since 2005 on charges of drug trafficking.
“The caliphate of Afghanistan is ready to resolve the issue by negotiation with all parties, including the US,” Muttaqi said. Bashir Noorzai expressed his joy at returning to Afghanistan, while his lawyer denied that his client was a drug dealer and said the US should drop the allegation.
“Mark Frerichs has been released. This is the result of years of work, a negotiation process that required many difficult decisions. The priority now is to ensure he returns to the United States safely and healthy. . This event shows the unshakable determination of America,” President Joe Biden said in a statement today, adding that he had called the Frerichs family.
Frerichs is an engineer and US Navy veteran who worked on many development projects in Afghanistan for 10 years, before being kidnapped in February 2020. Meanwhile, Noorzai was arrested by Washington for allegedly smuggling more than $50 million worth of heroin to the US and Europe.
An unnamed US government official said earlier that Mr Biden “had to make the difficult decision to pardon Haji Bashir Noorzai after 17 years of detention”.
The US urged the Taliban to free Frerichs, even after they took power and took control of all of Afghanistan in August 2021. This is one of the top priorities of the Biden administration, according to US officials.
Some US officials say the Frerichs case could affect the Taliban government’s view of legitimacy. No country has yet recognized the government, in part because of strict restrictions imposed on Afghan women since last year.
Vu Anh (Theo Reuters)