When her husband was taken hostage, she was told to keep quiet. More than a year later, she’s speaking out.

For more than a year, Anna Corbett lived alone with her fear. If she spoke publicly, she was told, her husband might die. If she remained quiet, he might live.

“I was really scared to put Ryan at risk,” Anna said in an interview with NBC News, referring to her husband. “I was advised to not raise his profile, raise his value, but it’s just become clear that he has a high value.”

Ryan Corbett is one of at least three Americans being held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to a source familiar with the situation who asked not to be named. His days are spent in a 9-by-9-foot basement cell in Kabul alongside other Western prisoners held by the Taliban’s main spy agency, the General Directorate of Intelligence.

He survives on scraps of fatty meat, must request access to the bathroom, and rarely has access to sunlight, according to prisoners who once shared his cell and have since been released. They say Ryan, who has been imprisoned since August 2022, has been fainting, experiencing seizures and has discolored extremities.

Ryan and Anna Corbett in Puget-sur-Argens, France, in September 2021.
Ryan and Anna Corbett in Puget-sur-Argens, France, in September 2021.Courtesy Anna Corbett

As time goes on, Anna is increasingly concerned about her husband’s physical health and mental well-being. One of the prisoners in Ryan’s cell went into sepsis twice.

After remaining quiet about his case for more than 14 months, she decided she could no longer wait. Two weeks ago, she testified before Congress and asked for help. Anna still does not know how the Taliban will respond.

“I’ve been reassured Ryan is important. They’re not gonna let anything happen,” Anna said. “But … this man almost died.”

Since the Biden administration withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan and shuttered the U.S. Embassy two years ago, the U.S. has no diplomatic presence in the country. The U.S. does not recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan but still engages in diplomatic discussions with them. As U.S. officials’ communications with the Taliban increased this year and Anna’s own communication with her husband decreased, she decided to use her voice.

“It’s just been too long, and I’m concerned about increasing these conversations with the Taliban and maybe losing points of leverage that can be used for bringing Ryan home,” Anna said. “I know it’s extremely complex, but I’m just a normal mom who wants her husband back.”

Ryan, 40, was raised in a rural corner of western New York. He was home-schooled, grew up loving hunting, and met people from around the world who were hosted by his family. Anna, 43, was born in France and spent her youth traveling around Europe with her family and attending French public schools.

While their childhoods were vastly different, when Ryan and Anna met in college in Wisconsin in 2000, they bonded immediately over their common love of the outdoors, dreams of living abroad and making a difference. They married in 2004.

Anna, Miriam, Ryan, Caleb, and Ketsia in South Bend, Ind., in March 2022.
Anna, Miriam, Ryan, Caleb, and Ketsia in South Bend, Ind., in March 2022.Courtesy Anna Corbett

They have three children, their two daughters Ketsia, 18, and Miriam, 16; and a son Caleb, 13, who was born in Afghanistan. Ketsia is heading to college next year, and Anna wants Ryan back before their eldest child leaves home.

“We can’t go on like this,” Anna said. “It’s 15 months. This is my kids’ childhood.”

The Corbetts moved to Afghanistan in 2010, working with NGOs supporting humanitarian projects and later starting “Bloom Afghanistan,” a microfinance company focused on providing Afghans with the tools they needed to build successful small businesses.

Ryan learned to speak Pashto, the language spoken in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and became close to his clients and their families. Even after their family fled the country in 2021 with other Americans, the Corbetts struggled with leaving behind their home, their community and their lives in Afghanistan.

“We believe that every human life is sacred, whether someone was born in a country devastated by decades of war or here in our nation’s capital,” Anna testified to Congress earlier this month. “Despite our personal anguish, we felt deeply that we could and should continue to support those we left behind including Ryan’s employees.”

Ryan Corbett teaching a course on leadership in the summer of 2015 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Ryan Corbett teaching a course on leadership in the summer of 2015 in Kabul, Afghanistan.Courtesy Anna Corbett

In January 2022, Ryan returned to Afghanistan, buoyed by his belief that his business was welcomed in the country, and by authorities’ decision to renew his visa. But on a subsequent trip in August, Ryan, a European colleague and two Afghan partners were detained by the Taliban. While the others were all released, Ryan continues to be held prisoner. To date, Ryan has still not been charged with a crime.

In September, the State Department found Corbett had been wrongfully detained, a determination that opens his case to high levels of diplomatic negotiations and resources including potential prisoner exchanges to secure his release.

Since his arrest, his family has had one six-minute call with Ryan. His last consular visit by the Qatari government, acting as a protecting power on behalf of the U.S. government, was in January 2023. Earlier this month, Ryan was able to speak to U.S. consular officers for three minutes by phone and hear directly that the Biden administration was working on his case.

A State Department spokesperson said the United State has continuously pressed, including in meetings with Taliban representatives, for the immediate and unconditional release of Americans detained in Afghanistan. Citing privacy, safety and operational reasons, the spokesperson said the State Department is not speaking publicly about its efforts.

Since Ryan’s arrest, Anna has met with Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, and deputy national security adviser Jon Finer to discuss her husband’s case. Shortly before Thanksgiving, Anna was able to speak by phone with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Anna says she is grateful to the Biden administration for what it’s done, but after her brief conversation with her husband in May and the reports she hears from the prisoners who shared his cell, Anna worries that Ryan’s resilience is running out.

“They’ve said this is our number-one priority. But there’s an American sitting in a basement for 15 months. I think they can do more,” Anna told NBC News. “They’ve done a lot and I’m grateful for that. But more needs to be done so he can be brought home.”