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Anna Corbett aims to win the release of her husband Ryan, who's held by the Taliban

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ryan Corbett is an American citizen who has been detained by the Taliban in Afghanistan for more than a year and a half. His wife, Anna Corbett, is leading efforts to secure his release. A Martínez got on the line with her to ask how her husband is doing.

ANNA CORBETT: I am receiving updates through the State Department, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, SPEHA, who has been working in this case since the beginning, since August 10 of 2022. And also, I have calls with Ryan very infrequently, but I have received five phone calls now in the past 600 days and receive little updates from him. But they're difficult to discern because he's not able to speak freely.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: If you could share, what is he saying to you? What kind of things do you talk to him about?

CORBETT: Well, we have three teenagers, and he wants to hear news of the children. Last week when we spoke - that was our fifth call - we had 12 minutes on the phone, and I was really concerned because I noticed a deterioration in his mental health. There have been concerns of his physical health now for a while, but last week, when I talked with him, I could tell that he was losing hope and there was just a shift in his mindset. So that was really scary to me.

MARTÍNEZ: Anna, how do you hold it together when you notice something like that? I mean, how do you not just cry?

CORBETT: Oh, I cry all the time. It's very difficult. And I felt terrible having the kids be exposed to that and have to hear that. But I feel that personally, I don't want my children to lose their two parents right now. So I try to hold it together and keep life as normal as possible.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, are these phone calls, are they video calls, or have you actually got a chance to see Ryan?

CORBETT: These are just phone calls. We don't have video access at those times. I have seen two pictures of him. One was taken when the Qataris visited him in January of 2023, and then the second time in December of 2023, and that was really scary. We received the second picture on Christmas morning, and Ryan had lost a lot of weight, and he looked very aged.

MARTÍNEZ: You've made now multiple trips to Washington, D.C. You've met with senior officials, including the secretary of state and the deputy national security adviser. Lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for Ryan's release. What is your sense of where the government's efforts stand at this point to release Ryan?

CORBETT: I am very concerned about where things stand. As you said, we have introduced this House resolution. Seventy congressmen have said we want to bring Ryan home as soon as possible. Now we're about ready to introduce a Senate resolution. There's just increasing support and champions on the Hill. And State Department has been working really hard, as well. I don't understand why this is taking so long. This is the one thing that everyone is agreeing on - we need to bring Ryan home - on both sides of the aisle. And I keep asking to meet with the president. He has met with the Gaza hostage families, which I'm very happy for them that they have met, but I keep asking for a meeting. I don't know if he knows about Ryan.

MARTÍNEZ: You and your family lived in Afghanistan for 12 years until the U.S. pulled out of the country in 2021. Why did you make the decision to go, and what was life like there at that time?

CORBETT: We made the decision to go to Afghanistan because we wanted to make a difference. Ryan helped with humanitarian projects, then later realized that he could help in better ways the economic situation of families by starting a business to help them start their own businesses and offering consultation. And we didn't think we would live there that long. And as time went on and we developed friends and had opportunities and saw that Ryan's work was making a difference, it was really exciting.

But we had to leave when the Taliban took over in 2021. And Ryan had his business. His staff was depending on him, and he didn't want to just abandon everything from one day to the next. And that's what ultimately took him back there for these short trips to pay his staff and give some training. And that's when he ended up being detained. But he had broken no rules. We had been living there. He knew the language. He had a valid visa. He's never been charged with anything.

MARTÍNEZ: Any hint at all as to why he was detained by the Taliban?

CORBETT: Seems like he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they saw his passport and saw an opportunity there. Yeah. We don't understand what happened, and I can't believe we're 600 days in now, and he's still held in this basement cell. This is just insane.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, you mentioned that really disturbing call you had with Ryan recently that had you really worried, really concerned. I'm sure you want to be as hopeful as possible. I mean, where are you mentally with his situation and what his future might hold?

CORBETT: It's pretty terrifying. It's really tough for me and for the children. I have a strong faith in God, and I pray all the time. I pray for Ryan. I pray for our family, have a strong support system. I have counselors. I have just a lot of amazing people around me. But it's tough to stay sane, and there's just so much reason for anxiety and stress. I think I've had every symptom of anxiety under the sun since this is all started. But at the end of the day, I just want to keep fighting and bring Ryan home because he's amazing and we love him and we miss him terribly.

MARTÍNEZ: If you could speak to Ryan, you know, just you and him, what would you want him to know? What would you tell him?

CORBETT: I would tell him how much we love him, and we just can't wait to bring him back home. And we're going to do everything to get him back.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Anna Corbett. Her husband, Ryan, has been detained by the Taliban in Afghanistan for more than 600 days. Anna, as much as you can, stay strong. And we hope you get Ryan back soon.

CORBETT: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: In response to this story, a National Security Council spokesperson told NPR News that President Biden is tracking Ryan Corbett's case and the administration is, quote, "doing everything possible to bring him home."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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