14:08 GMT27 January 2021
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    New details emerging on the American government contractor believed to be a captive of Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan suggest that efforts to locate him have let up after leads went cold over the past several weeks.

    Sputnik reported back in February that 57-year-old government contractor and US Navy veteran Mark R. Frerichs, a resident of Lombard, Illinois, was kidnapped by members of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, according to US intelligence.

    While it was suspected that Taliban-linked militants captured Frerichs, no group has taken responsibility for his disappearance or demanded a ransom. At the time of the initial report, US government sources claimed that a joint rescue effort had been launched by the US Department of State, the Department of Defense and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

    The Associated Press reported on Thursday that, for the past month, US officials have been in contact with the news agency and revealed details of the rescue mission in question. The outlet granted the sources anonymity, as they are not permitted to discuss such matters publicly.

    “The first 96 hours is crucial,” a senior US government official briefed on the case told AP. “If they’re not recovered in the first few days, it becomes harder every minute after.”

    Both a senior US government official and another official with the Department of Defense told the outlet that the government’s original search effort for Frerichs stretched from Afghanistan’s Khost Province to areas south of Kandahar Province.

    US Navy SEALs were tasked with conducting a night operation in a known Taliban location on February 3, but ultimately had to delay their gathering intelligence due to poor visibility, according to the senior US official. The location and other details of the site referenced could not be disclosed due to operational security reasons.

    According to the two aforementioned sources, the SEAL platoon waited for hours before returning to the area and were not met with resistance when they raided the compound and detained several individuals alleged to be Haqqani militants. A weapons cache was also uncovered on the grounds.

    The senior government official claimed those detained by the platoon were questioned about the 57-year-old’s disappearance and later turned over to the Afghan government.

    US intelligence officials were notified on February 4 that Frerichs could possibly be in Quetta, Pakistan, which the two officials described as a historical safe haven for the Taliban. However, the intelligence gathered by the platoon did not prove to be credible enough to warrant another special operations mission, the senior government official said.

    “Operationally, the reason why time is critical in a kidnapping is because you can close the distance quicker, ideally immediately or by utilizing sources,” the senior government official said. “This is not the case right now. He could be two houses down from where he was taken and we would not know.”

    Details gathered by the SEALs also conflicted with information gathered electronically from signals broadcast from radios and cellphones. The two officials said that Frerichs’ suspected cellphone and other related devices stopped pinging on February 5.

    It’s unclear whether further efforts have been pursued since then.

    Art Frerichs, the 57-year-old’s father, issued a statement to AP and said that while he has faith in US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “I just need them to tell their people negotiating with the Taliban that America won’t lift a finger until my son comes home. He’s a veteran. This is America. We don’t leave people behind.”

    Though little has been said about Frerichs over the past two months, the FBI-led Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell told the LA Times in a recent statement that it was working with partners to see “that Mark Frerichs and all Americans held hostage abroad are returned home.”


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