As President Joe Biden considers whether he should follow the Trump administration’s lead and pull remaining U.S. troops out of Afghanistan in the coming months, some are calling for him to secure the release of an abducted American contractor believed held by a Taliban-linked militant group.
On the one-year anniversary of Mark Frerichs’ abduction, family members and other supporters are urging the Biden administration not to withdraw additional troops without the Navy veteran being released from captivity.
Frerichs was abducted one year ago Sunday while working in the country on engineering projects.
U.S. officials believe he is in the custody of the Haqqani network, though the Taliban has not publicly acknowledged detaining him.
“We are confident that he’s still alive and well,” his sister, Charlene Cakora, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We don’t have any thinking that he’s dead or that he’s injured.”
Frerichs, who is from Lombard, Illinois, is one of several Americans believed to be detained abroad, including journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in Syria in 2012, as well as U.S. Marine Trevor Reed and Michigan corporate executive Paul Whelan, both of whom are imprisoned in Russia.
Days before Biden took office, the Trump administration announced that it had met its goal of reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan to about 2,500, part of a broader plan to remove all forces by May.
New Secretary of State Antony Blinken held his first call on Thursday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and told him the administration was reviewing the peace deal signed by the U.S. and the Taliban in February 2020. A State Department description of the conversation did not mention Frerichs.
Separately, the Pentagon said the Taliban’s refusal to honor commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan is raising questions about whether all U.S. troops will be able to leave by May.
Some of Frerichs’ supporters believe the U.S. should demand his release in exchange for further troop withdrawals.
“Further troop withdrawals that are not conditioned upon the release of American hostages will likely make it harder to subsequently secure their release,” the two Democratic senators from Illinois, Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, wrote Biden in a letter provided to the AP.
In an interview, Duckworth said she wrote Biden and Blinken to stress “that this needs to be a priority, that we need to bring him home.”
She said Lloyd Austin, the new defense secretary, had promised that any negotiations about military presence would include discussion about detainees.
The State Department is offering $5 million for information leading to Frerichs’ return.
“American citizen Mark Frerichs has spent a year in captivity. We will not stop working until we secure his safe return home,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Frerichs remains in Afghanistan after a year of steady diplomatic negotiations, including peace talks in November with then-Secretary of State Pompeo and Taliban and Afghan negotiators.
Blinken told reporters on Wednesday that the Biden administration wanted to take a detailed look at the February deal before deciding how to proceed. He said the administration had asked Trump’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to remain on the job for continuity’s sake.
In his call with Ghani the following day, according to the State Department, Blinken expressed “robust diplomatic support” for the peace process but said the U.S. was reviewing the deal to assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitment to “cut ties with terrorist groups.”
“I don’t want any troops to start packing up and heading out until Mark gets home safely, because I don’t think we really have a leg to stand on once they’re all out of there,” Frerichs’ sister said.
“You don’t leave Americans behind, and I just really want to make sure that he’s home safe.”
The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.
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