Taliban Release 2 Americans Detained in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — The Taliban released two Americans who had been detained in Afghanistan on Tuesday, including Ivor Shearer, an independent filmmaker who had been held since August, according to a person with knowledge of the release.

The Biden administration did not confirm the name of either American, but an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail a sensitive process, said that both had been safely taken to Qatar and were en route to being reunited with their families.

Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said the release was not part of a prisoner exchange and that no money was paid for the Americans’ release. He said it appeared to be a “good-will gesture” on the part of the Taliban.

Mr. Shearer was arrested along with his Afghan producer, Faizullah Faizbakhsh, over the summer as they were filming near the site of a drone strike that had killed the Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a media watchdog. The group said it had no information about whether Mr. Faizbakhsh was still being held.

The Americans’ release was first reported by CNN, and came as the Taliban moved to suspend university education for women. The release came almost two weeks after administration officials announced that Brittney Griner, an American basketball player, had been freed after months in Russian custody. Ms. Griner’s release was part of a prisoner swap in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer.

The Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

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In September, an American engineer, Mark R. Frerichs, was freed from Afghanistan on the condition that the United States release Haji Bashir Noorzai, a prominent Afghan tribal leader who had been convicted of drug trafficking.

Officials in the Biden administration have spoken candidly about how much — and how unexpectedly — the issue of Americans detained overseas has occupied their time and resources. While only four countries held Americans wrongfully from 2001 to 2005, at least 19 countries do now, according to research complied by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, the advocacy organization started by Diane Foley and named for her son, who was killed by terrorists in the Middle East.

“I had not fully anticipated the prominence that this responsibility would play in my job, but it has been very significant,” Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told The New York Times this week. Recently, Roger Carstens, the Biden administration’s top hostage negotiator, spoke publicly about what it was like to bring Ms. Griner home — she spent a large chunk of the 18-hour flight home chatting with him.

“It’s horrific to leave an American wrongfully detained in a foreign jail cell,” Mr. Carstens said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” last week.

The Biden administration is also working to free Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia. Activists saw Mr. Shearer’s arrest as a chilling sign of the Taliban’s approach to the news media after the group seized power in Afghanistan last year. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mr. Shearer and Mr. Faizbakhsh were stopped by Taliban intelligence officials in August, blindfolded and taken into detention.

“The Taliban’s increasing pressure and escalating numbers of detentions of journalists and media workers, including the detention of American filmmaker Ivor Shearer and his Afghan colleague Faizullah Faizbakhsh, show the group’s utter lack of commitment to the principle of freedom of the press in Afghanistan,” Carlos Martinez de la Serna, the group’s program director, said in a statement at the time.

As he oversaw the chaotic and violent drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan last year, Mr. Biden said American officials were relying on commitments by the Taliban to allow people to leave the country. The Taliban have agreed to release several imprisoned Americans this year, but continues to clash with the United States over access to humanitarian aid and the seizure of funds from Afghanistan’s central bank after the Taliban took over.

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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