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Taliban returns American and Australian hostages as part of a prisoner swap after holding them for over 3 years

Rosie Perper , Business Insider US
 Nov 21, 2019, 10:06 AM
Video posted on Youtube in January 2017 shows Australian Timothy Weeks (left) and American Kevin King (right) in Taliban custody.
Screenshot/Youtube
  • American Kevin King, 63, and Australian Timothy Weeks, 50, were released from Afghanistan after being held hostage since 2016.
  • The pair's release was facilitated by the Afghan government and the Taliban as part of a prisoner swap which included senior members of the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network.
  • The State Department said in a statement that both men were in the custody of the US military and would soon be reunited with their families.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

An American and an Australian who were held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for over three years were freed on Tuesday as part of a prisoner swap. 

The State Department said in a statement on Tuesday that American Kevin King, 63, and Australian Timothy Weeks, 50, were "successfully recovered" on Tuesday morning and were in the custody of the US military.

The department added that both men would soon be reunited with their families.

Both Weeks and King were teachers at the American University of Afghanistan in the capital of Kabul and were kidnapped at gunpoint outside the university in August 2016. The two men were held hostage for over three years.

In 2017, the Taliban released a propaganda video showing the two men in black robes and looking disheveled. In the video, the men discussed their time in captivity and urged their governments to negotiate with the Taliban in order to secure their release.

In a statement in 2017, the Taliban said King was "gravely ill" and needed urgent care.

According to the State Department, the Taliban released the professors as a "goodwill measure." The department added that the Taliban intended to release 10 Afghan prisoners, and the Afghani government intended to release three Taliban prisoners as part of the exchange.

This combination of pictures created on November 19, 2019 shows photographs released on October 16, 2014 by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and taken on October 15, 2014, of Anas Haqqani (L), a senior leader of Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network poses for a picture in Kabul and Hafiz Rashid (R), another commander, by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency, officials said.
AFP PHOTO / National Directorate of Security (NDS)

The men released as part of the swap were senior members of the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network.

"We see these developments as hopeful signs that the Afghan war, a terrible and costly conflict that has lasted 40 years, may soon conclude through a political settlement," the State Department said.

Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said that the Australian government was "profoundly relieved" by the agreement reached and thanked the Trump administration and the Afghan government for their assistance.

"We regard this release as one of a series of confidence-building measures that are taking place in Afghanistan," she said.

Payne added that Weeks' family has "asked for privacy" but conveyed that they feel "relief that their long ordeal is over."

According to The Washington Post, the Afghan government initially said the pair appeared to have been kidnapped by a criminal gang. The Pentagon and Navy SEALS also unsuccessfully attempted to rescue the two men in a botched mission in eastern Afghanistan.

The US had kickstarted talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in September but abandoned talks after a Taliban attack in Kabul killed a US soldier.

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