WASHINGTON – As the Biden administration considers whether it should pull remaining U.S. troops out of Afghanistan in the coming months, some fear for the fate of an American who could be left behind: an abducted contractor believed held by a Taliban-linked militant group.
On the one-year anniversary of Mark Frerichs’ abduction, family members and other supporters are urging the Biden administration not to withdraw additional troops without the Navy veteran being released from captivity. Frerichs was abducted one year ago Sunday while working in the country on engineering projects. U.S. officials believe he is in the custody of the Haqqani network, though the Taliban have not publicly acknowledged holding him.
“We are confident that he's still alive and well,” his sister, Charlene Cakora, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We don't have any thinking that he's dead or that he's injured.”
For U.S. diplomats, Frerichs' captivity is a piece of a much larger geopolitical puzzle that aims to balance bringing troops home, after a two-decade conflict, with ensuring regional peace and stability. Biden administration officials have made clear that they are reviewing a February 2020 peace deal between the United States and the Taliban, concerned by whether the Taliban are meeting its commitment to reduce violence in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration, which had made the release of hostages and detainees a priority, ended without having brought home Frerichs, who is from Lombard, Illinois. He is one of several Americans the Biden administration is inheriting responsibility for, including journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in Syria in 2012, as well as U.S. Marine Trevor Reed and Michigan corporate executive Paul Whelan, both of whom are imprisoned in Russia.
It is unclear to what extent, if at all, Frerichs' fate will be complicated by the declining American military presence in Afghanistan committed to by the Trump administration. Days before President Joe Biden took office, the Trump administration announced that it had met its goal of reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan to about 2,500, part of a broader plan to remove all forces by May.
The Biden administration must determine how to handle that commitment.
New Secretary of State Antony Blinken held his first call Thursday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and told him the administration was reviewing the peace deal. A State Department description of the conversation did not mention Frerichs. Separately, the Pentagon said the Taliban’s refusal to meet commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan is raising questions about whether all U.S. troops will be able to leave by May.