Family of Navy Vet Held Hostage in Afghanistan Calls for Firing of Top Biden Official

Zalmay Khalilzad instrumental in withdrawal from Afghanistan

Mark Frerichs / Twitter
September 15, 2021

The family of a Navy veteran held hostage by terrorists in Afghanistan since January 2020 is calling for the immediate dismissal of the Biden administration's top representative to the country.

Charlene Cakora is demanding the firing of Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghan reconciliation, accusing the official of ignoring the plight of her brother, Mark Frerichs. Khalilzad led the Biden administration's negotiations for the Afghanistan withdrawal. Cakora said in a Tuesday statement that her family has not received a call from Khalilzad about her kidnapped brother since President Joe Biden took office.

"I have lost faith in Ambassador Khalilzad," Cakora said. "[He] appears to have ignored my brother's kidnapping. ... They need someone talking to the Taliban who will make Mark a priority. Ambassador Khalilzad needs to be fired."

Frerichs, a contractor working in Afghanistan for more than a decade, was seized by Taliban-backed Haqqani network operatives in January 2020. Sirajuddin Haqqani, a leader of the Haqqani network who is wanted by the FBI for terrorism, joined the Taliban government earlier in September in a cabinet-level position. He is responsible for planning a 2008 Kabul bombing that killed a U.S. citizen.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment on the status of Frerichs, nor on whether they are considering the dismissal of Khalilzad. Biden has mentioned Frerichs in public once before in a July speech, but stumbled over his name when doing so.

Newsweek reported in September that a top Taliban official confirmed his organization is in talks with the government to secure Frerichs' release and that the Taliban "hope[s]" it can come to an agreement. Cakora and others have offered the idea of exchanging former Afghan drug trafficker Bashir Noorzai for Frerichs.

"My nation and the Taliban have been at war for a long time," Cakora said. "I know that when wars end, prisoners on both sides should have the ability to come home."

A State Department spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon that it will "continue to press" the Taliban for Frerichs's release until the veteran is brought home.

"Mark’s safety is extremely important to the United States, and we have made that clear to the Taliban," a spokesman said. "Secretary Blinken spoke with Mark’s family in April, and senior U.S. officials, including from the Department of State, meet with the family regularly."

Republicans and Democrats have expressed grave concern over Frerichs' condition, especially as the United States loses what little leverage it had to secure his release during the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. Frerichs' senators, Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.), have pushed for their constituent's release for months. Rep. Mike Waltz (R., Fla.), a top advocate for Frerichs' release, issued a joint statement with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R., S.C.) on Sept. 9 emphasizing the urgent need to bring the Navy veteran home.

"We call on the Biden administration to demand the release of U.S. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs, who has been held hostage for over a year by the Haqqani network, the leader of which was just appointed to the Taliban cabinet," their statement reads. "It is inexcusable that his release was not secured prior to the full withdrawal of American military forces and diplomats."