hostage advocates concerned about US withdrawal from Afghanistan | New Hampshire News
By ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – Defenders of Americans held hostage abroad fear that the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan will make the repatriation of captives from the country more difficult.
An annual report by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, released Wednesday, examines the state of the US government’s efforts to secure the release of hostages and illegal detainees in foreign countries. The report’s findings are based on interviews with former hostages and detainees or their representatives and relatives, as well as with former and current government and military officials.
The report shows general satisfaction with the changes instituted as part of a hostage policy overhaul in 2015, which included the creation of an FBI-led hostage recovery fusion cell and the appointment an envoy from the State Department for hostage cases. But it also raises potential areas for improvement, including better mental health and financial support for hostages and detainees returning from captivity. And he says more needs to be done to make hostage recovery a higher priority.
Among the concerns raised by hostage advocates interviewed for the report is the fact that once US troops leave Afghanistan – a process which the Biden administration says will be completed by the 11th. September – “It will become more difficult to generate the intelligence necessary to locate Americans and conduct hostage rescue operations currently held in the region.”
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These include Mark Frerichs, an entrepreneur from Lombard, Illinois, who disappeared in January 2020 and is believed to be held by the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network, and Paul Overby, an American writer who disappeared in Afghanistan in 2014.
“They are also concerned that the further reduction in the physical presence of the United States in the country constitutes an erosion of the leverage necessary to progress in the resolution of these cases,” the report said. “Some defenders have the impression that the release of these hostages was not a precondition for any settlement during the peace talks in Doha, Qatar, with the Taliban.”
The departure of all US special operations from Afghanistan will make counterterrorism operations, including intelligence gathering on al-Qaida and other extremist groups, more difficult. The administration hopes to be able to compensate with the military’s wide geographic reach, which only expanded with the advent of armed drones and other technologies.
The administration has said it will maintain a US Embassy presence, but it will become more difficult if the departure of the military results in a breakdown of Afghan governance.
The principal US envoy for peace, Zalmay Khalilzad, told Congress that he had repeatedly called for the release of Frerichs and that he “had obtained the support of senior Qatari and Pakistani officials on his behalf.”
The foundation behind the report was created by Diane Foley, whose son, James, was killed by Islamic State militants in 2014 while in Syria as a freelance journalist. The deaths of James Foley and other Western hostages at the hands of IS operatives helped spark the 2015 policy overhaul following complaints from hostage families that government officials failed sufficiently communicated with them and had even threatened prosecution if relatives tried to collect a ransom.
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