The Afghan Taliban released American and Australian university professors held hostage for more than three years yesterday, Afghan government officials said, completing a delayed prisoner swap and raising hopes for a revival of peace talks.
American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks were kidnapped in August 2016 from outside the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul where both worked as professors. They were freed in return for the release of three Taliban commanders under a swap that had been long delayed, the officials said.
The US-backed government’s decision to carry out the swap is seen as key to securing direct talks with the Islamist militants, who have, until now, refused to engage with what they call an illegitimate “puppet” regime in Kabul.
Talks between the Taliban and the United States aimed at ending their 18-year war collapsed in September after President Donald Trump called off what he described as a planned meeting at his Camp David presidential retreat.
“The two professors are safely freed and are being taken care of now,” said a senior Afghan official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He did not provide further details.
Earlier yesterday, three Taliban sources familiar with the deal, including one in Qatar, home to the political leadership of the Afghan Taliban, said the three Taliban commanders who are part of the swap were freed from jail in Afghanistan.
“Soon after their release, they were flown to Doha and handed over to the political office in Qatar,” said a Taliban leader in Afghanistan, who declined to be identified because he is not authorised to speak publicly about the deal.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the release of weeks.
“We regard this release as one of a series of confidence-building measures that are taking place in Afghanistan,” Morrison said in a joint statement with his foreign minister.