U.S., Australian hostages freed in prisoner exchange, Taliban says

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 Now Bahar district, a region largely under Taliban control.

It wasn’t immediately known if the two hostages, both professors at the American University of Kabul, were handed over to Afghan government representatives, intermediaries, or U.S. forces.

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.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani a week ago announced the “conditional release” of the 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.

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