Biden Demands Taliban Release Captive Civil Engineer

By Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino covers the White House.
February 1, 2022Updated: February 1, 2022

President Joe Biden is calling for the release of Navy Veteran Mark Frerichs, a civil engineer who was taken hostage by the Taliban two years ago.

“Threatening the safety of Americans or any innocent civilians is always unacceptable, and hostage-taking is an act of particular cruelty and cowardice,” said the president in a statement released over the weekend. “The Taliban must immediately release Mark before it can expect any consideration of its aspirations for legitimacy. This is not negotiable.”

Frerichs, a former Navy diver from Illinois, worked in Afghanistan as a civil engineer for a decade. He was kidnapped in January 2020 in the capital of Kabul and is believed to be in the custody of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.

Biden, in his statement, vowed to work “steadfastly” until every American held hostage and wrongfully detained overseas comes home.

Charlene Cakora, Frerichs’ sister, issued a statement saying that her family is “grateful” for Biden’s words.

“But what we really want is to have Mark home,” she said. “We know the president has options in front of him to make that happen and hope Mark’s safe return will become a priority for him personally.”

Biden also made mention of Frerichs during a speech in July.

“We’re going to continue to work for the release of detained Americans, including [Frerichs] so that he can return to his family safely.”

President Donald Trump signed a U.S.-Taliban peace deal last year, setting the stage for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. The Biden administration delayed the troop exit, but eventually followed through in August.

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan immediately after the U.S. troop withdrawal, resulting in the death of 13 U.S. Marines who were killed by a suicide bomber at the Kabul Airport.

The country’s collapsing economy has since drawn concerns from the United Nations, which has warned of a growing humanitarian emergency.

“An estimated 22.8 million people are projected to be in ‘crisis’ and ’emergency’ levels of food insecurity until March 2022,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a recent report. “Almost 9 million of these will be at ’emergency’ levels of food insecurity—the highest number in the world. Half of all children under five are facing acute malnutrition.”

The report also says there are “credible allegations” that more than 100 former members of the Afghan government have been killed since the Taliban takeover.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.