Taliban free American, Australian hostages after more than 3 years in captivity

Taliban free American, Australian hostages after more than 3 years in captivity

King, 60, and Weeks, 48, were kidnapped by the Taliban in August 2016.

Earlier on Tuesday, three Taliban sources familiar with the deal, including one in Qatar, home to the political leadership of the Afghan Taliban, said the three Taliban commanders who are part of the swap were freed from jail in Afghanistan.

The government was again calling on the Taliban to release Weeks and King, a spokesman said.

President Ghani also announced the release would be conditional and should pave the ground for face on face talks between government delegation and the Taliban to find negotiated settlement for the country's lingering crisis.

Sources privy of the development have confirmed to media outlets that the Afghan government released the three senior Haqqani network leaders late on Monday night.

Earlier in the morning, Afghan media outlets reported that the Afghan government has released three key Taliban prisoners, including Annas Haqqani, for exchange with a kidnapped USA professor and an Australian professor. "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", said the White House statement released on Tuesday.

The American University of Afghanistan said in a statement that it "shares the relief of the families of Kevin and Timothy, and we look forward to providing all the support we can" to the two men and their families. "We appreciate the support we have received and ask for privacy as we await Kevin's safe return", King's sister Stephanie Miller said in a statement.

In his tweets, he said, "We hope this step gives a boost of confidence to all parties involved to re-engage in the peace process". "Pakistan remains committed to facilitating this peace process", he said.

They appeared in a second video later that year, setting a June 2017 deadline for their release, in which Weeks pleaded with then-Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to negotiate for his release. They include Paul Overby, who is believed held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Jeffery Woodke, a missionary taken hostage in Niger by ISIS, and a third USA citizen whose name and circumstances are not public.

They are to be swapped for Anas Haqqani - the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network - and two other prominent militants: Hafiz Rashid Omari and Haji Milli Khan.

Both men seemed unwell in the emotional 13-minute video, where they pleaded for the US government to negotiate a prisoner swap to win them their freedom. It was impossible to know whether they were forced to speak.

"The two professors are safely freed and are being taken care of now", one of the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The release and swap were meant to try to restart talks to end Afghanistan's 18-year war and allow for the eventual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Mr Ghani said on Tuesday that the pair's health had been "deteriorating while in the custody of the terrorists".

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