Taliban exchange US, Australian hostages for 3 Taliban flown to Qatar

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 authorised 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 US forces and transported from the area in a US 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.