Taliban Releases American and Australian Professors in Prisoner Swap

November 19, 2019 Updated: November 19, 2019

Two professors who were kidnapped in 2016 were released by the Taliban terrorist group on Nov. 18 after the Afghan government freed three militant commanders.

Kevin King, an American citizen, and Timothy Weeks, an Australian citizen, were held for more than three years before being released. They were abducted in August 2016 while leaving the campus of the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.

American Special Forces tried to rescue them several days later but were unable to locate them.

In a video released the next year, King and Weeks implored President Donald Trump to arrange for their release.

Kings’ family issued a statement later Tuesday saying he was now safe with U.S. officials in Afghanistan and getting the medical care he needs ahead of his return home to be reunited with his family. It was not clear if Weeks was also with Australian officials.

“We are so happy to hear that my brother has been freed and is on his way home to us,” said King’s sister, Stephanie Miller. “This has been a long and painful ordeal for our entire family, and his safe return has been our highest priority. We appreciate the support we have received and ask for privacy as we await Kevin’s safe return.”

Anas Haqqani, a senior leader of the Haqqani network, arrested by the Afghan Intelligence Service, in a 2014 file photograph. (National Directorate of Security Department/Handout/Reuters)

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. The other two were Hajji Malik Khan, an uncle of Haqqani and a Haqqani lieutenant, Hafiz Abdul Rashid.

It appears the Taliban had refused to hand over the two professors until they received proof their men had reached Qatar. A Taliban statement said the prisoner exchange was a good step “for building trust” and something that “can help in peace process.”

In a statement, the American University of Afghanistan said: “AUAF welcomes the news of the release of our colleagues, Kevin King and Timothy Weeks, who had been held hostage since Aug. 7, 2016.

“The AUAF 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,” it added. “We wish to extend our gratitude to all involved in the release of our colleagues. The AUAF community, our students, faculty, and staff, have keenly felt the absence of our two colleagues even as we have continually urged their release over these past three years.”

The White House said in a statement: “The United States welcomes the release of Professors Kevin King and Timothy Weeks. King, an American, and Weeks, an Australian, were professors at the American University of Afghanistan when they were kidnapped at gunpoint in August 2016. Both men were successfully recovered today and are currently receiving medical care and other support from the United States Government. We pray for the full recovery of both men, who endured significant hardship during their captivity, and wish them well as they reunite with their loved ones in the near future.”

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’s family gave a special mention to Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien for their “behind the scenes” efforts to get Ghani on board with the prisoner swap. Pompeo and O’Brien made separate calls to Ghani on Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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