Afghan-American Naval reservist held by Taliban has been released

Afghan-American Naval reservist held by Taliban has been released
AP Photo/Zabi Karimi

Safi Rauf, a 27-year-old Afghan-American Naval reservist, announced today that he has been released by the Taliban. He and his brother Anees Khalil, a green card holder, were taken into custody by the Taliban on December 18. Both brothers are now free.

In a statement first obtained by CNN, Safi Rauf announced that on Friday, “we were released due to the efforts of the US government (most especially political officer JP Feldmayer, Special Representative Tom West, and Lt. Col. Jason Hock), our family and loved ones, the Qatari government, the British government, our team at Human First Coalition, and countless friends in country, in the region, and all over the world.”

Rauf was doing humanitarian work in Kabul. He put medical school on hold to start the Human First Coalition with his brothers, all former afghan refugees. The brothers are part of the “Digital Dunkirk” movement that worked to evacuate Afghans and others trying to leave after Kabul fell to the Taliban during Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from the country. The Human First Coalition turned to humanitarian aid for Afghans.

Human First Coalition credits Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, former New York Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey and national security adviser Jake Sullivan with help in securing Rauf’s release. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the state department also pressed for the release of Mark Frerichs but was not successful.

“Safiullah Rauf and Anees Khalil were released after being unjustly detained in Afghanistan,” Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said Friday. “They are now in Qatar before traveling home. We are grateful for the efforts of all those who worked to secure their release but more work remains. Unjustly holding Americans captive is always unacceptable, and we will not stop until every American who is being unjustly held against their will is able to hug their families once again.”

A State Department official added, “These individuals had been detained in Afghanistan since December. When it became clear they would not be permitted to leave, we planned and executed an approach to negotiate their release and reunification with their loved ones. This was an interagency team that conceived, planned out, and executed this important mission to bring home an American citizen and an American lawful permanent resident. We also took advantage of the opportunity to again press for the release of Mark Frerichs, as we do in every meeting we have with the Taliban. We will never let up anywhere, at any time, in our efforts to bring Americans who are unjustly detained back home — whether it’s Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran, or elsewhere.”

Frerichs, also a Naval veteran, remains in Taliban custody. A civil engineer working on development projects in Afghanistan, Frerichs was kidnapped before the February 2020 deal between the Trump administration and Taliban was signed.

Rauf was born in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan. He came to the US and graduated from high school in Omaha, Nebraska. He was embedded with US special forces as a linguist in Afghanistan for four years. When he returned to the US, he enlisted in the US Navy Reserves.

“Anees and I wish to thank everyone who worked tirelessly to secure our release as well as everyone who has supported the humanitarian efforts of our organization Human First Coalition,” Rauf said in his statement. “At this time, we are looking forward to reuniting with our family and loved ones and ultimately, I hope we can continue to advocate for and seek ways to serve the Afghan people in this critical time of need in Afghanistan.”

Rauf also said, “Our understanding is that this exceptionally unfortunate situation arose due to a misunderstanding; we did nothing wrong.”

This is a good news story at the end of a long week without a lot of good news. It’s hard not to think that Rauf would not have been in custody of the Taliban if the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan had not gone so horribly wrong at the hands of the inept and incompetent commander-in-chief. It was certainly not Rauf’s fault that he was taken by the Taliban, he was trying to help those who needed it after the fall of the country into the hands of the Taliban. Since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, eight Westerners, including the Rauf brothers, have been detained. The Taliban’s return to power was entirely predictable yet the Biden administration refused to understand that it would be a quick return, though Biden was warned by intelligence reports. Biden announced when the US would be out of Afghanistan and the Taliban simply waited and then moved in. Thirteen American lives were lost at the gates of the Kabul airport on the final day of evacuations, among the chaos.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on June 05, 2023