In the days following the capture of an American contractor in Afghanistan earlier this year, Navy commandos raided a village and detained suspected members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network while the U.S. intelligence community tried to track the cellphones of the man and his captors, The Associated Press has learned.
While the circumstances surrounding the abduction remain unclear, the previously unreported operation described by multiple American officials over the past month sheds new light on early efforts to locate Mark R. Frerichs, whose disappearance several months ago has been shrouded in mystery and whose case has been the subject of minimal public discussion by the U.S. government.
The new details emerge as violence and political infighting in Kabul threaten to scuttle a Taliban peace deal with the U.S. Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced frustrations after a failed attempt to mediate a power struggle between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.
Washington has urged Kabul to release Taliban prisoners, which is part of the peace agreement.
But there are no indications Frerichs, a Navy veteran, has been part of negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban leadership, or that his release is part of any peace deal.
Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and Army veteran who led the teams that searched for Bowe Bergdahl after the Army soldier abandoned his post in 2009 and wound up captured by the Taliban, said the Taliban frequently hides American hostages until they can move them over the border into Pakistan.
"I have real concerns about suggestions that the Taliban are serious about peace, that the Taliban are upholding their end of the deal when _ as we speak today _ they are holding a former Navy veteran and American citizen hostage that they took, again, during the peace negotiations," Waltz said in an interview.
The Pentagon and U.S. Special Operations Command declined to comment. The rescue effort is being coordinated through the FBI-led Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, which said in a statement that it was working with its partners to ensure "that Mark Frerichs and all Americans held hostage abroad are returned home." It urged anyone with information to come forward.
The State Department said it was aware of an American who'd been abducted in Afghanistan and that the "welfare, safety and security of Americans is the Trump Administration's highest priority."
U.S. officials believe Frerichs, 57, of Lombard, Illinois, was held for at least some time in Khost, an eastern province along the border with Pakistan and its so-called tribal regions, a mountainous area that has historically been a haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. Frerichs had been in Afghanistan for about a decade working on commercial projects and was not a U.S. government contractor.
Though no formal demands are known to have been made, U.S. intelligence officials believe Frerichs was captured by members of the Haqqani network, a militant group that is aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan and that was designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012.
Though the Haqqanis are known to carry out assassinations and kidnappings for ransom, Taliban leadership has not acknowledged Frerichs' capture.