Following more than two years in captivity in Afghanistan, Mark Frerichs was finally able to return home to the United States last week, thanks to a prisoner swap orchestrated by the Biden administration.
Haji Bashir Noorzai, a vital figure of the Taliban who had been imprisoned in the United States for 17 years on drug smuggling charges, was granted a pardon in exchange for the release of Frerichs.
This is the same Noorzai who was allegedly on a secret “kill” list maintained by a major U.S. agency.
Haji Bashir Noorzai, a prominent member of the Taliban who had been in an American prison for 17 years on drug-trafficking charges, is to be granted clemency. https://t.co/dtNekGhLw8 pic.twitter.com/lQh92uwAuk
— Newsmax (@newsmax) September 27, 2022
Frerichs, a U.S. Navy veteran who had worked as a government contractor in Afghanistan for over a decade, disappeared in January 2020, possibly at the hands of the Haqqani network, which has ties to the Taliban.
The Biden presidency bargained the terms for the return of U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed five months prior to Frerichs’ release.
WNBA star Brittney Griner and private security officer Paul Whelan remain in Russian custody. Despite widespread media coverage of Griner’s arrest, trial, and guilty plea, no signs have emerged that Griner and/or Whelan will be released as part of a prisoner swap. Griner’s nine-year prison sentence in Russia has already begun.
Fox News reports that discussions to free Noorzai began in June after President Joe Biden commuted the life sentence of the Taliban drug leader, creating a “very limited window of opportunity” to close the deal.
According to Military.com, Noorzai poured millions of drug cash into the Taliban treasury, making him a “high-priority target” on the U.S. special ops troops’ highly confidential kill-or-capture list.
The elaborate sting operation that led to Noorzai’s arrest in New York City in April 2005 was reportedly supervised by Michael Braun, chief operations for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to reports, Braun’s team included members of the DEA’s Special Operations Division who targeted “narcoterrorists” who laundered narcotics profits to fund terrorist activities.
According to Military.com, Braun claimed that the hundreds of millions of cash made by the Noorzai heroin trafficking organization flowed straight into the war chests of the Taliban, funding attacks against American and allied soldiers in Afghanistan.
Several extremely risky missions were carried out by the United States military and their coalition allies in order to track him down, said Braun.
Noorzai didn’t seem like the kind to run for presidential clemency back when he was arrested in 2005.
Fox News reports that Noorzai was on a list of the world’s most notorious drug traffickers and was tried in federal court in Manhattan for his role in growing opium in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province and distributing it through a web of middlemen to buyers in New York.