KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban on Monday freed American engineer Mark Frerichs in exchange for an Afghan tribal leader linked to the Taliban who the United States had imprisoned for drug smuggling since 2005, officials said.

Frerichs, an engineer abducted in 2020 while working in Afghanistan, was exchanged at the airport in Kabul for Bashir Noorzai, acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told a news conference in the Afghan capital.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is ready to solve problems by negotiation with all including the United States,” Muttaqi said, referring to the Taliban.

US President Joe Biden said Frerichs’ release was “the culmination of years of tireless work by dedicated public servants across our government and other partner governments”.

Biden’s administration has been under pressure from the families of Americans detained by hostile foreign governments and has vowed to step up efforts for their release.

Senior Taliban figure arrives in Kabul after decades in US detention

“Bringing the negotiations that led to Mark’s freedom to a successful resolution required difficult decisions, which I did not take lightly,” Biden said in a statement, without confirming the release of Noorzai.

A senior US administration official, who declined to be named, said Biden had granted clemency to Noorzai, who had spent 17 years in US custody for heroin smuggling, a charge he denied.

Frerichs is an engineer and US Navy veteran from Lombard, Illinois, who worked in Afghanistan for a decade on development projects. He was kidnapped in February 2020.

Frerichs arrived in Doha on a plane from Kabul at around 1:30 p.m. (6.30 a.m. EST) and is in good health, according to a source familiar with his situation. It was not immediately clear when he would arrive back in the United States.

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