U.S. citizen kidnapped in Afghanistan, U.S. officials say

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By Saphora Smith and Mosheh Gains and Caroline Radnofsky and Mushtaq Yusufzai and Ahmed Mengli  with NBC News World News
Image: Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers look out over hillsides of Wardak province in June 2019.   -   Copyright  THOMAS WATKINS

An American citizen has been kidnapped in Afghanistan, two U.S. officials have confirmed to NBC News. Mark Frerichs was taken around Jan. 31, they said.

News of his capture comes less than three months after the Taliban freed two Western hostages, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, after holding them in captivity for more than three years. Both American University of Kabul professors, the two men were kidnapped at gunpoint in August 2016.

They were released in exchange for Taliban members Anas Haqqani, Haji Maali Khan and Hafiz Rasheed Ahamd Omari, according to the Taliban.

In 2017, a military judge spared Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from prison for walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, upon which he was captured by the Taliban within hours. He was released in 2014 in a prisoner swap arranged by President Barack Obama.

The news of the kidnapping comes amid months of on-off U.S.-Taliban negotiations that could see U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistanin exchange for the Taliban agreeing to enter peace talkswith the Afghan government and pledging to renounce terrorist allies, including al Qaeda.

The U.S. has 12,000 to 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, but in December three current and former U.S. officials told NBC News that the Trump administration was poised to withdraw approximately 4,000 of them.

Trump has repeatedly pledged toend the "endless wars" and NBC News reported in Augustthat the president has made clear to his advisers that he wants to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the 2020 election, according to five current and former administration and military officials.

The war in Afghanistan is America's longest, having raged for 18 years and cost the lives of around 2,300 troops,according to the Department of Defense.

From January 2009, when the United Nations began a systematic documentation of civilian casualties, to September, some 34,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the armed conflict.