The eyes of the nation, and the world, remain focused on Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power last week.

Within a matter of days, Ashraf Ghani, the country’s president for almost seven years, fled to the United Arab Emirates; the Western-backed Afghan government collapsed; Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, fell to the Taliban; and the United States sent more troops into the besieged nation to evacuate over 10,000 Americans and U.S. allies by Aug. 31—the date U.S. armed forces were scheduled to be fully withdrawn from Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden has suggested he is willing to extend the Aug. 31 deadline and keep troops in Afghanistan until all U.S. citizens who want to leave the country have done so. However, the process of getting one U.S. citizen in particular out of Afghanistan, Mark Frerichs of Lombard, has been arduous and frustrating for Frerichs’ family.

Frerichs, 59, a U.S. Navy veteran, had been living and working in Kabul for 10 years as a civil engineer until he was kidnapped by a group closely aligned with the Taliban in late January 2020.

Efforts to get Frerichs released, first under the Trump Administration and now under the Biden Administration, have been unsuccessful up to this point.

Frerichs’ sister, Charlene Cakora, and her husband met with officials from the State Department, the FBI, the Department of Justice and the National Security Council on Monday, Aug. 16, hoping to secure his release.

“We don’t question the president’s reasons for getting out of Afghanistan,” Cakora said in a statement. “We needed to hear why he didn’t use any leverage to get my brother home and what he’s prepared to do now.”

Cakora, in an Aug. 20 interview with BBC News, added, “We have been at war with the Taliban for 20 years. President Biden declared the war over on Aug. 31. When a war ends, each side gets to have their prisoners come home. That is all we are asking for Mark.”

Later in the interview, Cakora made a direct plea to President Biden:

“Please treat my brother like he was your son and act to bring him home quickly,” she said.

The BBC story noted that when U.S. officials have pressed for Frerichs’ return, the Taliban mentioned releasing Bashir Noorzai, who has been imprisoned in the U.S. for the past 16 years. Noorzai is a drug lord affiliated with the Taliban.

“We know that this war is ending, and you want your prisoners back as much as we want my brother,” Cakora told BBC News in a message directed to Taliban political leader Abdul Ghani Baradar. “Please treat him well and work with U.S. officials to arrange a prisoner swap that gets you Bashir Noorzai and returns Mark home safely to us. Let that be the one thing that both sides can see as a win.”

Illinois’ United States Senators Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth both released statements last week addressing the situation in Afghanistan and mentioning Frerichs by name:

“The images we’ve seen of Afghanistan falling to the Taliban are tragic and incredibly difficult to watch, especially for the countless American servicemembers and military families who sacrificed greatly in that nation,” said Duckworth, a combat veteran of the Iraq War who lost both of her legs when a helicopter which she piloted was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents. “Right now, my attention is focused on the evacuation, which includes ensuring our nation leaves absolutely no stone unturned in our efforts to secure the safe return of my constituents, including American hostage Mark Frerichs, as well as all Americans in Afghanistan and on safely evacuating as many of our Afghan partners as possible.”

“President Biden understands history when it comes to Afghanistan,” Durbin said. “He made the difficult decision to not hand over this longest of American wars to a fifth president. And had he walked away from the withdraw agreement originally negotiated by President Trump, Taliban attacks on U.S. forces would have restarted and required yet another surge in U.S. troops. How long were Americans willing to continue this cycle, particularly if the Afghan government wasn’t willing to fight for its own future?

“This endless cost in American lives and taxpayer dollars was not sustainable. And while good people can have honest debates about U.S. policy in Afghanistan, those who sat silently when Donald Trump pursued a hasty U.S. withdrawal and now cry howls of outrage reek of hypocrisy.

“We must ensure we bring all Americans, including Mark Frerichs, safely home. And we must also keep our commitment to help those Afghans who helped the U.S. effort to safely leave as well.”

 

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