June 4, 2023

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Exclusive: Biden administration secures release of Afghan-American reservist held by Taliban

Exclusive: Biden administration secures release of Afghan-American reservist held by Taliban

Rauf and his brothers, all former Afghan refugees, founded the Human First Coalition, which worked with others in the “Digital Dunkirk” movement to evacuate those desperately trying to escape after the fall of Kabul. Soon the organization’s work shifted to humanitarian aid to the Afghans, and Rauf stopped the medical school to go to Kabul to try to provide much-needed assistance.

Raouf and his brother Anis Khalil, a green card holder, were taken into custody by the Taliban on December 18. After more than 100 days of intense negotiations between the Biden administration and their kidnappers, the Raouf brothers were released earlier on Friday.

In a statement first obtained by CNN, Safi Raouf announced that on Friday, “we have been released due to the efforts of the US government (in particular Political Officer J.P. Feldmayer, Special Representative Tom West, and Lt. Col. Jason Hook). Family, loved ones, and government Qatar, the British government, our team at Human First, and countless friends in the country, in the region, and around the world.”

A source from the Human First Coalition told CNN that Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, former New York Democratic Representative Nita Lowe and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan were also very helpful in securing Raouf’s release.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that “Safiullah Raouf and Anis Khalil have been released after they were unjustly detained in Afghanistan.” “They are now in Qatar before they fly home. We are grateful to all who worked to secure their release, but there is still more to do. Unjustly detaining Americans is always unacceptable, and we will not stop until every American acts unjustly. Those detained against their will are able to embrace their families again.”

“These individuals have been held in Afghanistan since December. When it became clear that they would not be allowed to leave, we planned and implemented an approach to negotiate their release and reunification with their loved ones. This was an interagency agreement,” a State Department official added. The team that conceived, planned, and executed this important mission to return a US citizen and US lawful permanent resident. We also took the opportunity to press once again for the release of Mark Frerich, as we do in every meeting we have with the Taliban. We will never, anywhere, at any time, relent in our efforts to bring home unjustly detained Americans – whether it is Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran, or anywhere else.”

Fritsch, also a Navy veteran, remains in Taliban custody. Frerichs, a civil engineer working on development projects in Afghanistan, was kidnapped before the February 2020 agreement was signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban. on Friday, New Yorker He posted a video of Frerich calling for his release – the first time an Illinois national had been seen in years.

Born in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, Safi Raouf came to the United States and graduated from high school in Omaha, Nebraska. He joined the US Special Forces as a linguist in Afghanistan for four years, returned to the United States and joined the US Navy Reserve.

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“Anis and I would like to thank everyone who worked tirelessly to secure our release, as well as everyone who supported the humanitarian efforts of our organization, the Human First Coalition,” Raouf said in his statement. “At this time, we look forward to being reunited with our family and loved ones, and ultimately, I hope we can continue to defend the Afghan people and look for ways to serve the Afghan people at this difficult and most needed time in Afghanistan.”

Raouf also said, “What we understand is that this exceptionally unfortunate situation arose out of a misunderstanding; we did nothing wrong.”

Rauf’s release comes as the Taliban continues to seek recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan by the United States and other Western countries. Since returning to power in August 2021, in which the Biden administration withdrew all US forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban have detained at least eight Westerners, CNN reported in FebruaryIncluding the two Raouf brothers.

During the American withdrawal, they worked alongside the Taliban amid the chaotic evacuation of foreigners and Afghans from Kabul. Since then, US officials have been in regular contact, but there are still dozens of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave the country but couldn’t because there were no regular evacuation flights.

This story has been updated with additional feedback and background information.

CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Peter Bergen, Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.