Statement by Family of Last U.S. Hostage in Afghanistan to Haqqani Network

The sister of Mark Frerichs, a man believed to be the last U.S. hostage in Afghanistan, has shared with Newsweek a statement addressed to Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-aligned militia that U.S. officials believe to be behind Frerichs' kidnapping.

In the following text, which has been published in full, Charlene Cakora urges Haqqani to consider issuing a request to President Joe Biden's administration for a deal that would see Frerichs freed in exchange for the release of Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan tribal leader arrested on heroin trafficking charges in New York while attempting to advance diplomacy as the U.S.-led war in his country grew increasingly violent in April 2005.

Newsweek has also spoken to current and former U.S. officials regarding the prospect of trading Noorzai, who is currently in a New Hampshire federal prison, for Frerichs, whose whereabouts are unknown.

The statement below has not been edited in any way:

An Open Letter to Sirajuddin Haqqani,

"Now is such an important time for you and your people – indeed, the future of Afghanistan is at stake. The people of Afghanistan have seen decades of fighting. Entire generations have grown up knowing what it feels like to have foreign forces in your country. With the war ending, there are big decisions to be made about the future.

In the past two weeks, the Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan and foreign forces have started to end their presence and depart. This changes the role of the Taliban from a fighting force to a governing entity. Your government will now need to think about ensuring the people of Afghanistan have food, water, electricity. You will need to think about diplomatic recognition, economic opportunities, and support from outside the country. There are so many opportunities but, at the same time, so many risks.

Continuing to hold an American against his will is one of those risks. That American is my brother, Mark Frerichs, and I am writing to appeal for your help in bringing Mark home to his family. As a first step toward that goal, we need your help to confirm that Mark is alive.

As you know, Mark is an American civilian who was in Kabul for the past decade helping build a future for the people of Afghanistan. He worked on civil engineering projects – things that would open the door to future economic opportunities for people he came to know and respect, people who had seen too many years of war and now deserve a future of peace and prosperity.

Mark was seized in Kabul on January 31, 2020 and then transferred into the custody of your Haqqani Network. Mark was already in Haqqani custody when you wrote in the New York Times on February 20, 2020 about the peace accord you then planned to sign with the United States: "A degree of trust has been built through our talks with the American negotiators in Doha, Qatar, but just as the United States does not trust us completely, we too are very far from fully trusting it." As the head of the Haqqani Network and the deputy leader of the Taliban, you are now in a unique position to build that trust with the nations of the world that are waiting to see what a Taliban government in Afghanistan will look like.

In 2005, Bashir Noorzai travelled to the United States. We heard that he was trying to negotiate a peace agreement with the US government and something went wrong. He was arrested, tried, and convicted of drug trafficking. It is not for me to say whether the charges were appropriate or whether the terms of his visit were violated, but it is clear that for the past 16 years someone important to you has been in the hands of the people you have been fighting and you want him back.

As I have learned about where Mark is, I became aware that your own brother, Anas, was freed at the end of 2019 in an exchange that allowed him to come home. At this important time in history, I hope you will agree with me that building the trust you spoke about and showing leadership is important for the future of the people of Afghanistan.

My government is good at some things and not so good at others. Through two administrations, they have made mistakes in their efforts to get Mark home. But I believe there is an opportunity for you to break through the obstacles that have prevented us from having my brother come home. I am asking you to publish a recent video of my brother and an offer of a trade for Mr. Noorzai. I am hoping that my government will respond in an appropriate way so we can bring the pain to these two men and their families to an end.

We have been trying to find a way to bring Mark back to our family and we believe you are the key to it. As a sister, I am appealing to you to show leadership by releasing my brother, and I hope my government will do the same with Bashir Noorzai. A recent video of my brother might move things in the right direction.

Mr. Haqqani, my nation and the Taliban have been at war for a long time. I am not the right person to speak about things that were right or wrong. But I know that, when wars end, prisoners on both sides should have the ability to go home to their families. That is what I am asking from you.

Charlene Cakora"

Mrs. Cakora is the sister of American hostage Mark Frerich

Mark, Frerichs, hostage, Afghanistan
U.S. contractor Mark Frerichs is seen in this undated family photo. Frerichs disappeared in late January 2020 and Newsweek reported days later that he was believed by U.S. officials to have been abducted by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani Network. Courtesy of Charlene Cakora