Afghan President: Kidnapped Professors to Be Exchanged for Taliban Leaders
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced Tuesday that the Taliban will release two foreign professors in return for the government's release of three Taliban leaders.
American Kevin King and Australian Timothy John Weeks were kidnapped in Kabul in August of 2016. They were seized near the American University of Afghanistan where they had been teaching.
In January 2017, the Taliban released a video in which the two professors asked their families to pressure the United States to negotiate with the Taliban and to exchange prisoners for them.
The three released Taliban leaders include Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the current chief of the Haqqani group, along with Haji Mali Khan and Abdul Rashid.
President Ghani said that they were being released "conditionally in exchange" for the two professors. Ghani said his government made the decision after discussion with international partners, especially the United States. He said it was a hard decision, but that the exchange helps the "talks with the Taliban and for reaching peace and stability."
He said his government also received reports that the health of the Western hostages was failing.
A Taliban spokesman told VOA he knew of Ghani's announcement. He added that the Taliban would offer reaction "only after we know for sure the (Taliban) prisoners have reached us."
The American University of Afghanistan released a statement saying it was "encouraged to hear reports of the possible release of our two colleagues, Kevin King and Timothy Weeks."
People close to the Afghan president said the prisoners will be kept in a third country, possibly Qatar, until the Taliban releases the Western hostages.
The U.S. and Taliban have held talks in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The release of hostages is expected to help restart these negotiations. The two sides appeared to be close to an agreement before the talks ended suddenly in September.
The U.S. special diplomat to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, led those earlier negotiations. He is also credited with the negotiations leading to the release of these hostages.
The Taliban refuses to talk directly with the Afghan government in Kabul.
I'm Caty Weaver.