Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Nation & World

Taliban say they freed U.S., Australian hostage for three Taliban

The hostages were released in southern Zabul province, ending their more than three years in captivity.
This two photo combination image taken from video released June 21, 2017, by the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, shows kidnapped teachers Australian Timothy Weekes, top, and American Kevin King, who were both abducted by the insurgents in Afghanistan in August 2016. Three ranking Taliban prisoners released by the Kabul government have been flown to Qatar for an expected swap for the American and the Australian hostage held by the insurgents since their abduction in 2016, Taliban officials said Tuesday. (EL-EMARA Taliban via AP, File) [AP]
Published Nov. 19

ISLAMABAD — The Taliban said they freed on Tuesday an American and an Australian hostage held since 2016 in exchange for three top Taliban figures who were released by the Kabul government and flown out of Afghanistan the previous day.

The hostages — American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks — were released in southern Zabul province, ending their more than three years in captivity.

According to a Taliban official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media, the release took place in the province’s Naw Bahar district, a region largely under Taliban control.

The two hostages, both professors at the American University of Kabul, were handed over to U.S. forces and transported from the area in a U.S. helicopter.

Their freedom came hours after the Afghan government freed three Taliban prisoners and sent them to Qatar. They included Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the fearsome Haqqani network.

It appears the Taliban had refused to hand over the two professors until they received proof their men had reached Qatar.

The American University of Afghanistan confirmed the release of the two professors, saying in a statement that its “community shares the relief of the families of Kevin and Timothy, and we look forward to providing all the support we can to Kevin and Tim and their families.”

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan also welcomed the release of the two professors, saying he appreciates “steps taken by all involved to make it possible.” Pakistan wields some influence over the Taliban and has played a behind-the-scenes role in trying to restart peace talks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani a week ago announced the “conditional release” of the three ranking Taliban figures, saying at a press event broadcast live on state television that it was a very hard decision he felt he had to make in the interest of the Afghan people.

King and Weeks, the two captives held by the Taliban were abducted in 2016 outside the American University in Kabul. The following year, the Taliban released two videos showing the captives. A January 2017 video showed them appearing pale and gaunt. In the later video, King and Weeks looked healthier and said a deadline for their release was set for June 16 that year.

Both said they are being treated well by the Taliban but that they remain prisoners and appealed to their governments to help set them free. It was impossible to know whether they were forced to speak.

Subsequently, U.S. officials said that American forces had launched a rescue mission to free the two, but the captives were not found at the raided location.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien made separate calls to Ghani on Monday to discuss the prisoners’ release, Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.

The release and swap were intended to try to restart talks to end Afghanistan’s 18-year war and allow for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The United States had been close to an agreement in September with the Taliban but a fresh wave of violence in the Afghan capital that killed a U.S. soldier brought talks and an impending deal to a grinding halt.

The agreement called for direct talks between the Taliban and Afghan government as well as other prominent Afghans to find a negotiated end to the war and set out a roadmap for what a post -war Afghanistan would look like.

Ghani in his discussions with Pompeo and O’Brien said he wanted a reduction in violence and an all-out cease-fire, his spokesman said.

According to a U.S. State Department statement Tuesday, Pompeo told Ghani the United States was “committed to work closely together to address violence if the President’s decision does not produce the intended results.”

Southern Zabul province, where the two professors were freed, is heavily controlled by the Taliban and vast parts of it have long been a no-go area for the government.

But according to the Taliban, an unofficial cease-fire is now being observed in three districts of the province — Shahjoy, Shahmatzo and Naw Bahar — possibly to facilitate the release of the two hostages.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. President Donald Trump speaks during a small business roundtable in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    It’s another sign Donald Trump has accepted that he is likely to be impeached by the House.
  2. In this Dec. 4, 2019 file photo, Tesla CEO Elon Musk arrives at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Musk did not defame a British cave explorer when he called him “pedo guy” in an angry tweet, a Los Angeles jury found Friday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File) MARK J. TERRILL  |  AP
    Vernon Unsworth had angered the Tesla CEO by belittling his effort to help in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for weeks in a Thailand cave as a “PR stunt.”
  3. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks during a press conference at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, Monday. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas) ANDREA COMAS  |  AP
    Democrats are charging toward a Christmastime vote on removing the 45th president.
  4. U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Robb Chadwick speaks to the media at the main gate at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Wednesday, in Hawaii, following a shooting. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia) MARCO GARCIA  |  AP
    It wasn’t known if the sailor and the three male civilians had any type of relationship, or what the motive was for the shooting.
  5. Constitutional law expert and George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley arrives to testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, on the on the constitutional grounds for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    The House Judiciary Committee is moving swiftly to weigh findings by fellow lawmakers that the President misused the power of his office for personal political gain.
  6. In this Aug. 28, 2014, photo, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko makes a statement, at Boryspil airport in Kiev, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Mikhail Palinchak)
    Taking a closer look at what the story does — and doesn’t — show about Ukraine’s involvement in 2016.
  7. U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he and U.S. first lady Melania Trump arrive at Stansted Airport in England, Monday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    The findings that will serve as the foundation for debate over whether the 45th president should be removed from office.
  8. In this Nov. 20, 2019 file photo, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) JOHN BAZEMORE  |  AP
    Harris was once considered a front-runner in the crowded Democratic field.
  9. President Donald Trump meets French President Emmanuel Macron at Winfield House, Tuesday, in London. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    The U.S. President began his first of two days at the NATO conference by harshly rebuking Emmanuel Macron.
  10. A police officer confronted an armed student at a Wisconsin high school Tuesday morning and both were wounded, police said. Facebook
    The shooting follows a similar attack at Waukesha South High School in suburban Milwaukee on Monday morning.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement