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Taliban frees last American prisoner in Afghanistan in prisoner swap with the US

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The Taliban freed the last U.S. prisoner being held hostage in Afghanistan on Monday as part of a prisoner swap with the U.S. government.

Mark Frerichs, a U.S. Navy veteran and engineer, was first abducted by the Taliban from Kabul in 2020 while working as a contractor. His freedom came in exchange for the release of Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban member convicted in 2008 of running an expansive heroin smuggling operation.

President Biden commuted Noorzai’s sentence and the exchange took place at the airport in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul.

“Today, we have secured the release of Mark Frerichs, and he will soon be home.  Mark was taken in Afghanistan in January, 2020 and held for 31 months,” Biden said in a statement. “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.”

“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,” the president added. “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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Mark Frerichs, a U.S. veteran and civilian contractor, was held more than 2 years in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Frerichs’ family says he has been freed by the Taliban. (Charlene Cakora via AP)

Bashir Noorzai, prison, speaks during his release ceremony, at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.

Bashir Noorzai, prison, speaks during his release ceremony, at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.
(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

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The exchange comes as the U.S. and the Taliban continue to negotiate the return of billions of dollars worth of frozen assets to the country. The funds had belonged to the now-defunct U.S.-backed government of Afghanistan, which fell to the Taliban last year.

The Biden administration and the United Nations are working to release the funds in an effort to stabilize the Afghan economy, which has all but collapsed under Taliban rule and Western sanctions. Humanitarian organizations have warned that the Afghan people may face hunger in the impending winter.

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The U.S. seeks to avoid sending funds directly to the Taliban by setting up a Swiss trust fund that would control the funds and distribute them for humanitarian needs. Nonprofits warned earlier this year that much of U.S. aid to Afghanistan was going directly to the Taliban.

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