WASHINGTON — Two Western captives, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, were freed by the Taliban after being held in captivity for more than three years, a U.S. official and Pakistani prime minister said Tuesday.
A U.S. official with release information said professors at the American University of Kabul, abducted at gunpoint in August 2016, were now in U.S. custody. Health investigated, and both debriefed, according to the official who had not to talk with the press about it.
“We thank the measures those involved have taken to make this possible,” said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Twitter. “Pakistan has fully supported and encouraged this release as part of its strategy of promoting efforts for a peaceful political settlement of the Afghan crisis as part of the international community working to bring peace and end the suffering of the Afghan people.”
Taliban sources said the two hostages had been handed over in Zabul province, on the border with Pakistan. The Taliban said 10 Afghan soldiers had also released.
According to a Taliban official in Zabul province, King suffered from “severe” and “multiple” health problems.
“When we turned him over to U.S. and Afghan authorities, the American teacher was having some serious health problems,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the press.
On November 12, in exchange for three Taliban leaders, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the deal to free the two captives.
According to the Taliban, the Western hostages released in exchange for members of Taliban Anas Haqqani, Haji Maali Khan, and Hafiz Rasheed Ahamd Omari.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the release of the professors.
We asked the Government of Australia to convey its relief that their prolonged ordeal has finished and to send gratitude to all those who led to Tim’s safe return, “the document said on Twitter
“The AUAF family shares the love of Kevin and Timothy’s parents, and we look forward to supporting Kevin and Tim and their families with all the support we can,” the statement added.
The meeting raises expectations that talks that resume between the U.S. and the Taliban after President Donald Trump plug on a potential deal to start withdrawing U.S. troops from the world and conclude America’s longest war. Negotiations have failed on September 7, and it remains unclear if and when they will resume again.
“Such steps are a step forward in efforts to create confidence and trust that can support the peace process,” the Taliban said in Tuesday’s statement.
The U.S. came close to an agreement with the Taliban in September. Still, a new wave of violence in the Afghan capital that killed a U.S. soldier put a stumbling halt to negotiations and an eventual compromise.
The resolution called for direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, as well as other influential Afghans, to reach a peaceful end to the war and to lay out a plan for what it will be like after the war.
Ghani said he needed a reduction in violence and a complete cease-fire in his talks with Pompeo and O’Brien, his spokesman added.
According U.S. State Department on Tuesday, Pompeo told Ghani the U.S. was “engaged to work closely together to tackle violence if the decision of the president does not produce the intended results.”
Southern Zabul province, where the two professors shot, is heavily controlled by the Taliban and has long been a no – go zone for the military.
But according to the Taliban, an unofficial cease-fire is now being observed in three provincial districts — Shahjoy, Shahmatzo, and Naw Bahar — likely to facilitate the release of the two hostages.
“As part of the international community working to bring peace and end the suffering of the Afghan people, Pakistan has fully supported and encouraged this release as part of its strategy of promoting efforts for a peaceful political settlement of the Afghan crisis.”
The decision of the U.S.- backed Afghan government to carry out the exchange is seen as the path to achieving direct talks with Islamist militants who have refused to engage with what they call an unconstitutional “puppet” regime in Kabul until now.
Talks between the Taliban and the United States to end their 18-year insurgency failed in September after President Donald Trump called off what he described as a planned meeting at the U.S. presidential retreat Camp David in Kabul.
“The above developments, together with a reduction in violence in Kabul over the past few days, give us hope for the intra-Afghan peace negotiations that the United States is ready to support,” added Pompeo.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the launch in a statement with his foreign minister as “one of several confidence-building steps” that “we believe … would set the stage for a truce and intra-Afghan dialogue.”
President Ashraf Ghani said on November 12 that Afghanistan should release Anas Haqqani, a senior figure in the eponymous Haqqani network, a Taliban terrorist group blamed for some of the worst bloodsheds in recent years, and two other Taliban commanders.
In recent years, the Haqqani network has carried out large-scale attacks on civilians in Afghanistan. Based in Pakistan, it is claimed to be part of the Taliban in Afghanistan.