08:18 GMT26 February 2020
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    A multi-department effort to recover an American contractor has been launched after it was alleged that a Taliban-aligned group kidnapped the US citizen late last month.

    Mark R. Frerichs, a 57-year-old government contractor from Lombard Illinois, was captured on January 31 in Afghanistan’s southeastern city of Khost by militants linked to the Taliban, according to Newsweek, citing US officials.

    Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the officials revealed that Frerichs, who is also a former diver of the US Navy, had regularly traveled to Afghanistan since 2012.

    While few details were offered about the 57-year-old’s alleged capture, the sources did confirm that a joint effort to locate and rescue him had been launched by the US Department of State, the Department of Defense and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    As for the group responsible, Washington currently believes the American was kidnapped by members of the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Taliban, Newsweek reported. Two Western hostages, Kevin King of the US and Australian national Tim Weeks, were previously exchanged for three senior commanders of the Taliban-aligned group back in November 2019. The two individuals had been in captivity for three years before an agreement was reached.

    However, no group has publicly taken responsibility for Frerichs’ alleged kidnapping.

    "The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State," Holly Jensen, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, told Newsweek earlier this week. "We have no further comment."

    US President Donald Trump visited Afghanistan for the first time in late November 2019 and touted the possibility of establishing a peace deal within the region.

    "The Taliban wants to make a deal,” Trump said during his trip. "And we are meeting with them, and we say it has to be a ceasefire, and they didn't want to do a ceasefire, and now they want to do a ceasefire, I believe. It will probably work out that way.”

    However, the would-be agreement and negotiations have since stalled.

    More recently, the US president declared during his Tuesday State of the Union address that he would bring American troops home from Afghanistan and, in a made-for-TV moment, reunited a sergeant who had been deployed to the country with his family.

    Additionally, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced during a Monday news conference in Uzbekistan that a “peace and reconciliation plan” for Afghanistan is in its last stages of being drawn up.

    “So, what we are demanding now is demonstrable evidence of [the Taliban’s] will and capacity to reduce violence, to take down the threat, so the inter-Afghan talks ... will have a less violent context,” he said, as reported by the Associated Press. “We’re hopeful we can achieve that, but we’re not there yet, and work certainly remains.”

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    Tags:
    Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), FBI, US Navy, Government Contractor, Afghanistan, Taliban, U.S. Department of State, Department of Defense, Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump
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