In exchange for an Afghan tribal leader detained in US captivity since 2005, the Taliban have freed a US engineer they had been holding hostage since 2020.
The Taliban reported that Mark Frerichs was turned over on Monday at the airport in Kabul.
Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban associate serving a life sentence for drug trafficking, was given to them in exchange.
The US government and Mr. Frerichs’ family did not immediately respond to requests for comment. President Joe Biden promised during the election to ensure his independence.
Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s foreign minister, stated that Haji Bashir and Mark Frerichs were turned over to the US and us, respectively, at the Kabul airport today.
The year before the Taliban surged back to power in Afghanistan and its Western-backed government fell, Mr. Frerichs, 60, was kidnapped by the group.
He had been a civil engineer living and working in Kabul for ten years.
The former naval veteran’s incarceration has posed a significant obstacle to mending fences between the US and the Taliban, whose administration is still not acknowledged by any nation in the world.
In January, Vice President Biden said: “Before the Taliban can hope for any consideration of its aspirations for legitimacy, it must immediately release Mark. This cannot be altered.”
On his return to the Afghan capital, Bashir Noorzai had a hero’s welcome and was met by Taliban warriors with floral garlands.
He stated during a news conference that “my release along with that of an American will bring peace between the countries.”
Noorzai assisted in funding the initial Taliban administration in the 1990s and was a close friend and ally of Taliban founder Mullah Omar.
Although he had no formal title, he “offered considerable support, including weapons,” according to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid to AFP.
Noorzai has spent 17 years in American custody for importing heroin. He allegedly oversaw a big opium farm in Kandahar province, the Taliban’s traditional stronghold in the nation’s south, according to the prosecution.
He was one of the largest drug traffickers in the world at the time of his arrest in 2005, as he was in charge of more than half of Afghanistan’s drug shipments, which make up the majority of the global harvest.
He was found guilty in 2008 of conspiring to bring more than $50 million worth of heroin into the country by a New York court.