Kidnapped more than three years ago, two university professors have been freed by the Taliban, in exchange for three militant commanders who were released on Monday.
The hostages, American citizen Kevin King and Australian national Timothy Weeks, were released today more than three years after they were abducted in 2016.
Both men, who taught at the American University in Kabul, were flown out of the southern Zabul province by US helicopters this morning, according to local police.
‘The two professors are safely freed and are being taken care of now,’ an Afghan official said.
Their release came hours after the Afghan government freed three Taliban prisoners and sent them to Qatar.
They include Anas Haqqani, who was seized in 2014 and whose older brother is the deputy Taliban leader and head of the Haqqani network, a notorious Taliban affiliate.
Afghan authorities accuse Anas of a being a high-level player in the Taliban, but the militants have long demanded his release.
The other two Taliban prisoners to be released are Haji Mali Khan and Abdul Rashid, whose brother is based in Qatar.
Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani announced the prisoner swap last week in the hope of restarting talks with the militants.
King and Weeks were kidnapped by gunmen wearing military uniforms in the heart of Kabul in August 2016.
They later appeared looking gaunt and haggard in a Taliban hostage video. The militant network said King was in poor health and suffering from a heart and kidney condition that they were unable to treat.
Both said they were being treated well by the Taliban, but it was impossible to know if they were being forced to speak.
Ghani said last week that the pair had been ‘deteriorating while in the custody of the terrorists’.
The US has previously mounted two raids in an attempt to rescue the jailed professors, but both raids missed the pair by hours.
The American University of Afghanistan today welcomed news of the release of their professors.
The university ‘shares the relief of the families of Kevin and Timothy’ and would look to provide ‘all the support we can to Kevin and Tim and their families,’ a statement said.
There was no immediate comment from the US embassy in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan was also quick to welcome the release of the two professors.
‘We appreciate steps taken by all involved to make it possible,’ he said.
Anas Haqqani is the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who heads the Taliban’s Haqqani Network which has been blamed for some of the most shocking and brutal attacks in Afghanistan since the US invasion of 2001.
Rashid is a senior Taliban commander who was involved in equipping, training and transporting suicide bombers, according to reports.
Hajji Mali Khan is believed to be a senior Taliban commander, though his exact role in the group is unclear.
The prisoner swap is aimed at restarting stalled peace talks between America and the Taliban to put an end to the 18-year conflict still raging in the country.
An agreement had appeared to be in sight earlier this year but a fresh wave of violence in Kabul that killed a US soldier brought talks to a grinding halt.
The agreement called for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which has so far refused to take part in such negotiations.
Ghani said he hoped the swap would ‘pave the way’ for the start of unofficial direct talks between his government and the Taliban.
With reports by Mailonline news