Taliban deny having missing US contractor


ISLAMABAD: Taliban leaders searched their ranks, including in the much-feared Haqqani network, and on Sunday told a foreign news agency they are not holding Mark R. Frerichs, a Navy veteran turned contractor who disappeared in Afghanistan in late January.
“We don’t have any information about the missing American,” Sohail Shaheen, the Taliban’s political spokesman, told the media.
A second Taliban official familiar with the talks with the United States said “formally and informally” the Taliban have notified U.S. officials they are not holding Frerichs. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated a peace deal with the Taliban signed in February to allow America and NATO countries to withdraw their troops and end decades of war, asked for Frierchs’ release during his meetings this week in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.
In a statement late Saturday by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Khalilzad also sought Pakistan’s help in locating Frierchs. He arrived in Islamabad on Friday from Doha before heading to neighboring India in his pursuit of a lasting peace in Afghanistan. He met with Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa to also press Pakistan’s assistance getting the Taliban to agree to reduce violence in Afghanistan, where they have stepped up attacks on Afghan Security Forces but not U.S. or NATO forces, in line with the peace deal.
Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have found a safe haven since their overthrow in 2001 by the U.S.-led coalition, has worked with the U.S. to get a peace deal with the Taliban. While it still has influence with the insurgents, a deep mistrust between the militant movement and Pakistan exists.–Agencies