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Biden comments on American hostage in Afghanistan released in prisoner swap

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) — Mark Frerichs — the last-known American hostage being held by the Taliban — has been released in a prisoner exchange, President Joe Biden confirmed in a statement on Monday.

“His release is the culmination of years of tireless work by dedicated public servants across our government and other partner governments, and I want to thank them for all that effort,” Biden said.

The Taliban confirmed at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday that Frerichs from Lombard, Illinois, was released in a prisoner swap for a senior Taliban detainee and notorious drug lord Bashir Noorzai. Administration officials said Noorzai had been held in a federal prison in the United States but not at Guantanamo Bay as had been reported.

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

The 60-year-old U.S. Navy veteran and contractor, who had been “in Afghanistan for over a decade working on a variety of civil engineering projects,” was abducted in Kabul in January 2020 after being lured to what he thought was a new business meeting — but which turned out to be a horrific ruse, family members and officials have said. He’s been held in Afghanistan for 31 months.

“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 made desperate pleas to Biden on behalf of her brother’s release.

“I don’t think anybody can come home with their head held high until every stone has been turned,” she told ABC in an exclusive interview in June 2021, when the U.S. military completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan and Frerichs was the man left behind.

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

Duckworth and Durbin have not yet released statements about their constituent’s release.

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

“President Biden did what was right. He saved the life of an innocent American veteran,” she said.

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

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