The Biden administration is prepared to release an Afghan drug lord to the Taliban in exchange for the last American hostage abducted last year in Afghanistan, Newsweek reported.
Bashir Noorzai was arrested in New York City on drug trafficking charges in April 2005. He’s serving a life sentence at a federal prison in New Hampshire.
Mark Frerichs, a U.S. contractor, was abducted in late January 2020 by elements believed to be tied to the Haqqani network, a Taliban-aligned militia operating across the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Administration officials are insisting that the Taliban provide proof Frerichs is still alive, a U.S. government official told Newsweek.
"We are eager to explore ways to bring Frerichs back," a U.S. government official told Newsweek. "But these explorations are predicated on receiving a recent proof of life. The bottom line is that any progress moving forward lies in receiving proof of life."
Frerichs' sister, Charlene Cakora, told Newsweek that her brother’s freedom was worth far more than the captivity of a man already imprisoned for 16 years.
"The Taliban clearly have wanted Noorzai for years, and I can tell you that our family wants Mark back," Cakora said in a statement sent to Newsweek. "While I don't like the idea of letting a drug trafficker go, I can understand that the war is ending and they deserve to have him back the way we deserve to have Mark. If that is what it will take, then I support it."
Noorzai, a top figure in the Pashtun tribe to which elusive Taliban Supreme Commander Hibatullah Akhundzada belongs, traveled to the U.S. in 2005 under the pretext of diplomatic talks. Upon arrival, he was arrested by the DEA for his role in a global heroin trade.
"The U.S. government needs to get over its hang-ups on steps and process and meetings," Cakora said. "The Taliban have been clear about what they wanted since last summer and we need to act on it while the window is open to get Mark home.
"Why can't we just take 'yes' for an answer?"
A Taliban spokesperson in June revealed to Radio Free Afghanistan that Taliban political leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, in a virtual meeting with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had called for Noorzai's release, as well as the freedom of others detained in Guantanamo Bay.
"We urge the United States and all other countries to promptly release all prisoners that have been unjustly detained, thrown into notorious prisons, charged without receiving a fair trial and whose fates are still hanging in a limbo," Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a member of the Taliban's Cultural Commission, told Newsweek.
"We would welcome such a just move with open arms."
The potential hostage swap comes as House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff warned that Biden is 'unlikely' to meet his Aug. 31 deadline to evacuate U.S. citizens and their allies from Afghanistan, Daily Mail.com reported
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