Two American University professors have been freed from the Taliban after more than three years in captivity, reports NBC News. The two men, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, were handed over in Zabul province, on the border of Afghanistan, in a prearranged prisoner swap.
According to a Taliban leader who spoke on the condition of anonymity, King was dealing with “serious” and “multiple” health issues.
“The American teacher was having some serious health problems when we handed him over to the U.S. and Afghan officials,” the anonymous source said.
Officials in Afghanistan had been aware of the deteriorating health of the captives and had accordingly made their release a requirement for any peace talks. Ten Afghan soldiers have also been released.
In return, Taliban members Anas Haqqani, Haji Maali Khan, and Hafiz Rasheed Ahamd Omari have been released from Bagram prison, which is under the control of the Afghan government.
Though Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that releasing such three prominent prisoners was “difficult,” he believed it was a “necessary decision” and hoped that the move showed the Taliban that the Afghan government was willing to find common ground in peace talks (via NBC News).
The announcement of the prisoner exchange had been made around a week ago, but all involved had been on tenterhooks until the actual swap. After the exchange, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan praised all involved in the successful process.
“We appreciate steps taken by all involved to make it possible,” he said via Twitter.
“As part of the international community working to bring peace and end the suffering of the Afghan people, Pakistan has fully supported and facilitated this release as part of its policy of supporting initiatives for a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan conflict,” he concluded.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also confirmed the release of King and Weeks.
The two men, who had been working at American University in Kabul, had been in captivity for over three years since being seized at gunpoint in August 2016 at the university.
Many are hoping that the successful negotiations may serve as a reset for the uneasy relationship between the United States and the Taliban. Diplomatic ties have been in tatters since September 7, when President Trump decided against a potential deal that would withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“These actions are a step forward in good-will and confidence building measures that can aid the peace process,” the Taliban said in a statement Tuesday.
The swap might have also helped the relationship between the Trump administration and Afghanistan. Recent reports suggested that the president did not look favorably upon helping the beleaguered nation, as was previously reported by The Inquisitr.