Kabul: The Taliban freed Mark Frerichs, the only American hostage remaining in Afghanistan, in exchange for a Taliban drug lord, Bashir Noorzai, who was serving life sentence at a US prison, media reports said.
Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told reporters in Kabul that the prisoner swap between his government and a US delegation took place at the Kabul airport.
Frerichs, the nearly 60-year-old American engineer and Navy veteran, was abducted in Kabul in early 2020 when the US and NATO troops were battling the then Taliban insurgency in support of the Western-backed Afghan government.
Noorzai, known as Haji Bashir, was arrested in New York in 2005 and subsequently charged with trafficking heroin worth millions of dollars into the US. The top Taliban associate reportedly helped fund and arm the insurgents with proceeds from heroin trafficking, VOA reported.
Muttaqi described the prisoner swap as “unprecedented in the history of Afghanistan” and said it was the outcome of a long negotiation process between the Taliban and the US. He said until now, prisoner swaps between the two former adversaries would take place outside Afghanistan.
“This morning at 10 am, the American citizen was handed over to an American team at the Kabul airport and Haji Bashir was handed over to the Islamic Emirate,” Muttaqi said, using the official name for the Taliban government.
Noorzai’s lawyer had denied his client was a drug lord and argued the charges against him should be dismissed because US officials duped him into believing he would not be arrested, VOA reported.
International forces completely withdrew from the country in August of last year after almost two decades of war with the Taliban, paving the way for the resurgent Islamist group to seize power.