Florida Rep. Michael Waltz points out that the troop withdrawal was not conditioned on Mark Frerichs release from custody, which is fueling concerns that the U.S. could lose bargaining power to get him home.
Florida Rep. Michael Waltz slammed the Biden administration on Tuesday for giving away all “leverage” by pulling American troops from Afghanistan while Navy veteran Mark Frerichs remains a Taliban hostage.
Waltz, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and is a Green Beret veteran of the war in Afghanistan, stressed that he’s growing more concerned about Frerichs being left behind as the U.S. moves to withdraw its military from Afghanistan by Sept. 11.
Mark Frerichs is a contractor from Lombard, Illinois, who is believed to have been held for more than a year by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. Frerichs, a former Navy diver, was living in Kabul for a decade working on construction projects as an engineer when he was abducted, the Washington Post reported.
“The last American troops have pretty much gone home and the Biden administration has given away all of our leverage,” Waltz, R-Fla., told “Fox Friends” on Tuesday.
“The thing the Taliban wanted the most, and they’ve been asking for it for 20 years, is for American troops to leave.”
Waltz then noted that the troop withdrawal was not conditioned on Frerichs’ release from custody, which is fueling concerns that the U.S. could lose bargaining power to get him home once its military presence is removed.
“You would have thought before President Biden just yanked everyone out, and we’re seeing the collapse that’s happening now in Afghanistan as we speak, they at least could have gotten one American in exchange,” Waltz stressed.
Taliban forces are reportedly gaining momentum, pushing the Afghanistan government’s forces out of several districts and taking control of various weapons and military vehicles in the process, while the U.S. withdraws from the country.
U.S. Central Command announced last month that the drawdown is more than 90% complete and handed over seven facilities to the Afghan military.
The deterioration of the situation on the ground and the resurgence of the Taliban comes nearly 20 years after the U.S. and international forces entered Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, which had harbored Usama bin Laden.
President Biden’s plan is to fully withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, on the 20th anniversary of the Al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. planned by bin Laden that led to the lengthy war.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment. However, the Associated Press reported that the Biden administration has said it regards the return of hostages to be a top priority.
For Frerichs’ family, the failure to make his return a factor in the withdrawal of troops is a source of frustration, as is the fact that the Trump administration signed a peace deal in February 2020, just weeks after Frerichs disappeared in Afghanistan while working on engineering projects in the country.
His sister, Charlene Cakora, reportedly said in a statement in April that the military withdrawal “puts a time stamp on Mark.”
“My heart breaks for the family,” Waltz said on Tuesday. “You can imagine as they saw that announcement how they felt and their frustration and mine too.”
He added that he had learned that Frerichs’ family “has repeatedly asked to see President Biden to make their case personally and have been declined.”
Frerichs’ home-state senators, Illinois Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, had raised concerns about Frerichs’ situation in a letter to the president earlier this year.
Waltz said “it’s incredibly frustrating” that if Frerichs is located, U.S. helicopters, drones and special forces may not be readily available for a rescue mission.
The U.S. has not disclosed much about Frerichs’ status, but confirmed in April that active discussions with the Taliban were taking place, according to the Associated Press.
State Department spokesman Ned Price reportedly said in a statement that U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is working closely with Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, “has continued to press the Taliban for Mr. Frerichs’ release, and continues to raise his status in senior level engagements in Doha and Islamabad.”
“We place a high priority on Mark Frerichs’ safety and will not stop working until he is safely returned to his family,” the statement continued.
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.