Family of US hostage taken hostage by Taliban demands envoy’s firing

Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill
Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill
FILE PHOTO: Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, US April 27, 2021. Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters

September 13, 2021

by Jonathan Lande

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The family of Mark Frerichs urged US President Joe Biden on Monday to sack their chief Afghanistan peace negotiator, alleging that the envoy did too much to win the release of the last American held hostage by the Taliban. has reduced.

The call for the sacking of US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad comes amid questions over his talks with the Taliban, which failed to advance the peace process outlined in the US military pullout deal he signed with them in February 2020.

“I have lost faith in Ambassador Khalilzad,” Freirich’s sister and family spokeswoman Charlene Kakora said in a statement to Reuters, alleging that she had “overlooked my brother’s kidnapping.”

“They need someone who talks to the Taliban who will prioritize Mark,” she continued. “Ambassador Khalilzad should be fired.”

A State Department spokesman said in an email that the United States is pressing for an “immediate and safe release” of Frerichs and that these efforts “will not stop until Mark comes home.”

“We have made it clear to the Taliban without any uncertainty,” the spokesman added, adding that senior US officials “meet regularly with family.”

The National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 59-year-old US Navy veteran from Lombard, Illinois, worked in Afghanistan for a decade on development projects. Khalilzad was kidnapped a month before the signing of the US troop deal and transferred to the Haqqani Network, a ruthless Taliban faction that has been accused of some of the deadliest attacks of the war.

The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has a $10 million FBI bounty on his head, was named interior minister in the Taliban government last week as the last US troops announced after their power takeover of Afghanistan .

Kakora alleged that Khalilzad failed to prioritize her brother’s release and “never asked the Taliban about the Mark of the Month” between his abduction and the signing of the US military withdrawal agreement.

“Ever since Biden took office, we haven’t even spoken to our family,” Khalilzad said.

Taliban officials have suggested they free Frerichs in exchange for the release of Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan drug lord and Taliban ally, serving a life sentence in the United States for smuggling heroin into the country.

The family, in an open letter to Sirajuddin Haqqani last month, appealed for proof that Frerich was alive, asking him to publish a recent video of the detainee.

In the letter, Kakora also urged Haqqani to offer to trade Freirich for Noorzai.

“My country and the Taliban have been at war for a long time,” she said. “I know that when the wars are over, prisoners on both sides should have the ability to come home.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Lande; Editing by Jonathan Otis and Richard Pullin)

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