Mark Frerichs, Taliban hostage from Lombard, Illinois, left behind in Afghanistan

While the 20-year Afghanistan war ended Monday, President Joe Biden now should make a priority the release of the Lombard-raised Frerichs, kidnapped in Kabul in January 2020.

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Mark Frerichs, raised in Lombard, Illinois, has been held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan since January 2020.

Mark Frerichs, raised in Lombard, Illinois, has been held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan since January 2020.

Photo courtesy of Charlene Cakora

The purpose of this column is to turn up the heat and keep it on President Joe Biden until the Taliban free hostage Mark Frerichs, raised in west suburban Lombard. He was never made a priority as the Trump and Biden administrations negotiated an end to our nation’s longest war.

“The troops are out and the president says the war is over,” Charlene Cakora, Frerichs’ younger sister — who lives in Lombard — told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. “But my brother is still there and we want him home. The war isn’t over until my brother comes home.”

The last U.S. troops left Afghanistan on Monday. On Tuesday, Biden, while making a forceful case for why he kept to his Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, failed to mention Frerichs.

With some Americans and Afghans who worked alongside U.S. troops left behind, Biden said, “We are far from done.” Biden stressed the U.S. will still be engaging with the Taliban, even if the U.S. has no troops on the ground.

That means there still could be a channel to negotiate Frerichs’ freedom. The Biden administration needs to use it as the Taliban confront the enormity of transforming itself from an insurgency to a group capable of governing and delivering basic services.

“I’m not satisfied with what has been done to get him home,” Cakora said. “We have been waiting patiently for 19 months for Mark to be a priority. We want the military and the translators to be safe, but at some point Mark needs to be a priority too.”

Frerichs, 59, graduated Glenbard East High School in 1980 and served six years in the Navy, where he trained to be a diver. Good with his hands, after the Navy he worked as a general contractor, first in Iraq, then Afghanistan. He was living there for about 10 years and wrapping up work on a municipal water project when he was lured to a trap in Kabul and kidnapped on Jan. 31, 2020.

He is likely being held by the Taliban-related Haqqani network.

Cakora, 57, reached out to former President Donald Trump’s White House. Nothing happened, even as the Trump administration made an agreement with the Taliban to end the war, a deal Biden inherited.

Frerichs was left out of the bargaining at a time the Trump White House had considerable leverage with the Taliban.

After Biden became president, in April 2021 Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a wounded Iraq war vet and a member of the Armed Services Committee, pulled Biden aside after an Oval Office meeting on Asian American and Pacific Islander issues to discuss getting Frerichs released.

In a July 8 speech, Biden for the first — and now only time — mentioned Frerichs, not sure how to say his name. “We’re going to continue to work for the release of detained Americans, including Mark — excuse me — Fre– Frerichs — I want to pronounce the name correctly; I mis- — I misspoke — so that he can return to his family safely,” Biden said.

Cakora and her husband, Chris, were in Washington between Aug. 15-19 for meetings with the National Security Council at the White House plus the FBI and the State Department. There was also a joint meeting with Duckworth and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., staffers.

The next time a top U.S. official mentioned Frerichs was Monday night, hours after U.S. troops left Afghanistan, wrapping up the 20-year war.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken seemed to send a signal to the Taliban — now burdened with the chore of governing — when he talked about securing a “safe return” of Frerichs.

“Going forward,” said Blinken, “any engagement with a Taliban-led government in Kabul will be driven by one thing only: our vital national interests. If we can work with the new Afghan government in a way that helps secure those interests, including the safe return of Mark Frerichs, a U.S. citizen who has been held hostage in the region since early last year, and in a way that brings greater stability to the country and region and protects the gains of the past two decades, we will do it.”

Cakora is advocating for a prisoner swap. The only deal the Taliban floated has been a trade for an Afghan drug kingpin — Bashir Noorzai, listed in Bureau of Prison records as Basheer Ahmad, 61, — serving a life sentence in a federal prison in New Hampshire.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told FOX News on Tuesday, “We’re laser focused on getting him returned home safely to his family where he belongs.”

Duckworth told the Sun-Times the U.S. has to push harder for Frerichs’ freedom. Said Duckworth, Frerichs “who may be the only U.S. citizen still being held hostage in Afghanistan — demands a whole-of-government approach that demonstrates our nation’s commitment to not leaving any Americans behind in Afghanistan.”

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