İrem UZUN -TDO- The Taliban have released an American and an Australian held hostage since 2016 in exchange for three prominent members of the militant group who were set free by the Afghan government and flown to Qatar the previous day.
Australian Timothy Weeks, 50, and American Kevin King, 63, who were teachers at Kabul’s American University of Afghanistan, were handed over to US forces in southern Zabul province and transported from the area by helicopter, putting an end to more than three years in captivity.Three militantswere also sent to Qatar as part of the exchange. The swap includes Anas Haqqani, a leading figure and fund-raiser in the Haqqani militant group, and two other senior commanders, Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid, who had been held in prison by Afghan authorities. Anas Haqqani's older brother, Sirajuddin, leads the network of Haqqani fighters and is a deputy leader of the Taliban, which has a political office in Qatar.
Afghan officials say the deal is aimed at restarting talks with the Taliban.Mr. Ghani said in a televised speech that the exchange aimed to "facilitate direct peace negotiations". The Taliban also announced they had released 10 captured Afghan National Security Force members, saying the prisoner exchange had been "successfully executed". "These actions are a step forward in good-will and confidence building measures that can aid the peace process," the group said in a statement.