WASHINGTON – As the U.S. moves to withdraw its military from Afghanistan over the next five months, concerns are growing about one American who risks being left behind.
Mark Frerichs, a contractor from Lombard, Illinois, believed held for more than a year by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, was not mentioned in President Joe Biden's address on Afghanistan last week. Nor was the troop withdrawal, scheduled to be complete by Sept. 11, conditioned on his release from custody, fueling concerns that the U.S. could lose bargaining power to get Frerichs home once its military presence is removed from the country.
“Any leverage that we had, we've just now announced to the world and to the Taliban and the Haqqanis that we're going to pull out. Not only is it our leverage, it's our military capability to rescue him,” Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So it's just utterly disheartening.”
The Biden administration has said it regards the return of hostages to be a top priority. Despite this, the fate of a single captive is unlikely to sway the broader policy interest in ending a 20-year war that began in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It's not uncommon for detainee issues to be eclipsed by other foreign policy matters, as appeared to happen last week when the administration didn't mention Russia's detention of two Americans, even as it announced reasons for taking punitive action against Moscow.
Even so, for Frerichs' family, the failure to make his return a factor in the withdrawal is a source of frustration, as is the fact that the Trump administration signed a peace deal in February 2020, just weeks after Frerichs vanished in Afghanistan while working on engineering projects in the country.
His sister, Charlene Cakora, said in a statement that the military withdrawal “puts a time stamp on Mark. We have 150 days to get him home or our leverage is gone.”
Frerichs' home-state senators, Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, had raised similar concerns in a letter earlier this year to Biden.
In an interview Monday, Duckworth said she's been reassured by the administration that Frerichs has been part of the discussions and that officials are aware of his case. She said she spoke privately with Biden himself last Thursday, handing him a card with information about the case.