Relatives of an American being held captive by the Taliban terrorist group is calling on the Biden administration to secure his release.
Mark Frerichs was kidnapped by the Taliban in January of 2020 while working as a contractor in Afghanistan.
The Taliban took over the country this month after the United States pulled out most of its troops and Afghan forces were routed.
Frerichs’ family was at the White House this week to press President Joe Biden to take action.
“I came to Washington to plead for President Biden to save my brother’s life. He has the power to approve the trade that will bring Mark home safely. We need the President’s help to make that happen,” Charlene Cakora, the captive’s sister, told Newsweek.
She and others say one option is exchanging Bashi Moorzai, who was convicted on drug trafficking charges and is serving a life sentence in New Hampshire, for Frerichs.
“We don’t like the idea of seeing a drug trafficker go free, but that is who the Taliban wants,” Cakora said. “He’s been in prison here for 16 years. If sending him home gets my brother back safely to us, I support it. If the Biden Administration is not prepared to support this trade, then they need to tell us what they are prepared to do instead.”
Cakora added to the Daily Herald that the family doesn’t question Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, but wondered why the president “didn’t use any leverage” to get their loved one released.
“We have been begging government officials in this administration to make Mark’s freedom a priority,” Cakora said. “We listened to government people during the last administration telling us to be patient—but they never lifted a finger to free my brother. We have been hearing the same things from this administration. They kept telling us they had time, they had leverage. Well, they didn’t.”
The State Department told The Epoch Times via email that Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation “has continued to press the Taliban for Mark Frerichs’ release and continues to raise his status in senior level engagements in Doha and Islamabad.
“We place a high priority on Mark Frerichs’ safety and will not stop working until he is safely returned to his family. The Secretary has made clear that the safety and the safe return of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage are a top priority worldwide. We continue to make this clear to a number of interlocutors, including the Taliban,” the agency added.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The Biden administration has also received pressure from Democrats in Congress to get Frerichs released.
Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote to Biden this week, calling for the White House National Security Council to call an emergency meeting to develop a course of action that would lead to the Taliban freeing the prisoner.
“Our attention and energy must be devoted to pushing on every reasonable lever to secure the safe return of Mr. Frerichs to his family in the United States,” they wrote.
Khalilzad said earlier this month that the administration wants to get Frerichs home safely.
“I and my colleagues talk to the family, and I have raised it repeatedly and continue to raise it with the Taliban whenever I see them. We also raise the issue with countries with influence on the Taliban,” such as Pakistan and Qatar, he said.
Khalilzad declined to share details on the negotiations and said American officials did not know of the kidnapping when they signed the deal with the Taliban during the Trump administration.
Taliban officials have told U.S. counterparts that they want to release Khalilzad but don’t want to exchange prisoners, the official said.
“The Talibs want normalcy in terms of relations with us, if they want their own prisoners released, if they want to get off the list–there are a lot of issues that they want. So we continue to have leverage and we will bring all of them to bear to secure Mark’s release and the sooner the better,” he said.