WASHINGTON (Reuters) -An American and a U.S. resident have been freed from detention in Afghanistan, the State Department said on Friday, and one of the pair identified themselves as brothers who were engaged in humanitarian work when the Taliban arrested them.
Saifullah Rauf, the U.S. citizen and U.S. Navy reservist, and Anees Khalil, a U.S. green card-holder, were “unjustly detained” and are in Qatar awaiting travel to the United States, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Their release came against a backdrop of icy U.S.-Taliban relations, fueled by a ban on Afghan girls returning to public secondary schools, nearly eight months after the Islamists seized Kabul as the last U.S. troops departed following 20 years of war.
“We are grateful for the efforts of all those who worked to secure” the release of Rauf and Khalil “but more work remains. Unjustly holding Americans captive is always unacceptable,” Price said. “We will not stop until every American who is being unjustly held against their will is able to hug their families once again.”
The pair’s detention was kept extremely quiet. The most prominent American known to be in Taliban custody is Mark Frerichs who was abducted in January 2020.
A statement posted on Twitter by Human First Coalition, a U.S. private group involved in evacuating at-risk Afghans, identified Rauf as its president.
In the statement, Rauf said he and his brother “were engaged in humanitarian work in Afghanistan when we were taken into Taliban custody” on Dec. 18.
They were held for 105 days, he said.
“Our understanding is that this exceptionally unfortunate situation arose due to a misunderstanding; we did nothing wrong,” he continued without elaborating.
Rauf thanked those involved in helping to free the pair, including U.S. officials, their family, Qatar, the British government and his organization.
The U.S. Navy said that Rauf is a reserve hospital corpsman who enlisted in March 2017 and whose last posting was in April 2021 at the medical facility at Joint Base Andrews, outside Washington.
(Reporting By Paul Grant and Jonathan Landay; additional reporting by Idrees Ali. Editing by Katharine Jackson, Alistair Bell and Raissa Kasolowsky)