U.S. trades drug trafficker for American contractor in deal with Taliban
Noorzai expressed hope that his trade would pave the way for lasting relations between Kabul and Washington.
The White House announced Monday that it had successfully organized a prisoner exchange with the Taliban regime and had secured the release of an American contractor from their custody.
Navy veteran Mark Frerichs was working as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan before his abduction in January 2020 and had remained in Taliban custody throughout the group's takeover of the country, according to the Associated Press.
To secure his release, the Biden administration handed over Bashir Noorzai, a convicted heroin trafficker whom the U.S. had imprisoned for 17 years. Noorzai had previously maintained close ties to the Islamist militant group that now reigns in Kabul and his operation was a source of critical funding for its prior regime.
Biden lamented the cost of the trade, but ultimately stood by his efforts to repatriate an imprisoned American. "Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark's freedom to a successful resolution required difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly," the president said, per the outlet.
Noorzai expressed hope that his trade would pave the way for lasting relations between Kabul and Washington. "I pray for more success of the Taliban,” he said upon his release. "I hope this exchange can lead to peace between Afghanistan and America, because an American was released and I am also free now."
The newly released drug trafficker will likely face an uncertain economic future in the new Taliban-led Afghanistan, as the group has made significant efforts to crack down on the drug trade that funded its decades-long struggle with Western powers.
Frerich's release marks a rare success in prisoner exchanges for Biden. Among the most high profile cases currently ongoing are the Russian detentions of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.
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