Taliban insurgents free American, Australian professors

Two international professors from the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), one American and an Australian, have been freed after being held in Taliban captivity for more than three years, as part of a negotiated swap to release Taliban militants from prison in Afghanistan.

Minutes after Afghan official sources confirmed to University World News that Anas Haqqani, son of the fierce Haqqani network’s founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, and the other two Taliban figures, Hafiz Abd Rashid and Mali Khan, were handed over to the Taliban leadership in Qatar late on Monday, the militants released the abducted AUAF teachers in the restive country’s remote Zabul province.

The officials, who were not authorised to speak on the matter, said the swap deal, which was initially announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on 12 November but was halted last week due to terrorist attacks in Kabul and Logar province, went ahead amid the Taliban’s assurances to comply with the associated terms.

Closely watching the fate of the abducted teachers – American Kevin King, 62, and Australian Tim Weeks, 50, abducted in August 2016 and held since then – the university was delighted to confirm their eventual freedom.

“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. We wish to extend our gratitude to all involved in the release of our colleagues,” the university said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the initial campus euphoria that the release would happen quickly began to fade as the planned exchange had not taken place by Saturday 16 November.

The latest breakthrough came on the heels of two separate late-evening telephone conversations between Ghani and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.

Sources close to the Taliban acknowledged that neighbouring Pakistan played a key role in bringing the prisoner swap to fruition.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan lauded the move. In a series of tweets, he said Islamabad “fully supported and facilitated” the release of King and Weeks. “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 tweeted.

Visibly shaken, frail and weak, King and Weeks were last seen in a video that the Taliban released in 2017 that confirmed the men were in their custody. Later, a second video emerged in June that year in which the two men were appealing to their respective governments to take action for their release.