Afghanistan: prisoner exchange between the United States and the Taliban

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Afghanistan&nbsp ;: exchange of prisoners between the United States and the Taliban

Members of the Taliban government congratulate Bashar Noorzai (center) on his release during an event at a Kabul hotel. Mr. Noorzai had been imprisoned in the United States for 17 years for heroin trafficking. He was traded for Mark Frerichs, a U.S. Navy veteran who was abducted in Afghanistan in 2020 while working in civilian life.

The United States and the Taliban regime carried out a prisoner exchange on Monday, between a veteran of the United States Navy and a key supporter of the Islamist movement held for 17 years by the Americans, welcomed with fervor in Kabul.

< p class="e-p">American Mark Frerichs, kidnapped in 2020 in Afghanistan, was exchanged for Bashar Noorzai, a warlord close to the Taliban imprisoned in the United States for heroin trafficking.

After lengthy negotiations, US citizen Mark Frerichs was handed over to a US delegation, and that delegation handed over [Bashar Noorzai] to us today [Monday] at Kabul airport, Afghan minister said of Foreign Affairs, Amir Khan Muttaqi, at a press conference in the capital.

The veteran of the United States Navy worked as a civil engineer on construction projects in Afghanistan when he was taken hostage, according to the US State Department.

On January 31, US President Joe Biden called on the Taliban to immediately release Mark Frerichs before they could hope for any consideration of their aspirations for legitimacy. This is non-negotiable, Joe Biden had insisted of the new Afghan government, which has not been recognized by any country in the world.

Afghan prisoner Bashar Noorzai, sentenced to life in prison in the United States for heroin trafficking, held no official position within the Taliban, the spokesman told AFP. of the government, Zabihullah Mujahid.

He nonetheless provided significant support, including in arms, during the emergence of the Islamist movement in the 1990s, he said. added it.

A close associate of the late Mullah Omar, mythical founder of the Taliban, Bashar Noorzai fought the Soviet occupation with the mujahideen forces supported by the United States. During his trial, US prosecutors said he ran a global narcotics ring and supported the first Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001.

If the EIA [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] hadn't shown its strong resolve, I wouldn't be here today, Bashar Noorzai told reporters when he arrived in Kabul .

My release in exchange for an American will be a source of peace between Afghanistan and the Americans, he added.

His return was celebrated in fanfare by the Taliban regime. Photos circulating on social media show masked Taliban fighters putting flower necklaces around his neck.

Bashar Noorzai is the second Afghan detainee released by the United States in recent months. last months. In June, Assadullah Haroon was released after 15 years in Guantanamo prison.

Mr. Haroon had languished, without charge, for years in the US detention center in Cuba after being arrested in 2006 while working as a honey trader between Pakistan and India. Afghanistan.

Noorzai's release marks the start of a new chapter in Afghanistan-US relations, Foreign Minister said .

His release is a major achievement for the Taliban, according to Hekmatullah Hekmat, an Afghan security analyst interviewed by AFP.

“The Taliban can tell their infantry and Afghans that they are capable of bringing back their nationals held by opposition groups.

— Hekmatullah Hekmat, Afghan security analyst

In August 2021, the Taliban regained power after 20 years of occupation of the country by the United States and its NATO allies. The war claimed the lives of more than 2,400 American soldiers and more than 3,500 from other NATO countries, according to the US military. Tens of thousands of Afghans have also perished.

Despite the Taliban's pride in regaining power, the country of 38 million people must face one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet, according to the United Nations.

The situation only got worse when the disbursements of billions of dollars in foreign aid, which sustained the Afghan economy for decades, suddenly came to a halt when the United States pulled out. Some $7 billion in reserves have been frozen by Washington.

The Taliban's severe restrictions on women's rights have become a major obstacle to official recognition by the international community of the Islamist government in Afghanistan.

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