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7 Dec 2019 4:18
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  •   Home > News > International

    Australian Timothy Weeks and American Kevin King could be released in Taliban prisoner exchange

    After more than three years of captivity and a failed US Navy SEAL mission to rescue him, Australian teacher Timothy Weeks could soon be freed in a prisoner exchange between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban.

    An Australian teacher who has been held hostage by the Taliban for three years and was the target of a failed US Navy SEAL rescue mission could soon be freed in a prisoner swap between the militant group and the Afghan Government.

    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday (local time) announced his Government released three prominent Taliban figures in exchange for Timothy Weeks and American Kevin King.

    Mr Ghani said the "conditional release" was a very hard decision he felt he had to make in the interest of the Afghan people.

    Mr Weeks, who is from Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, was working at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in August 2016 when he and Mr King were kidnapped at gunpoint.

    They were ambushed by four militants after they left the campus and were driving to their Kabul compound.

    Days after the kidnapping, then US president Barack Obama ordered a secret night-time mission by Navy SEALs to rescue them.

    The SEALs raided a militant hideout in Afghanistan and killed seven people in a gun battle, but the hostages had already been moved to another location.

    Peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban collapsed in September this year, in part because the militant group refused to bow to pressure from the United States and Afghanistan to release the two men.

    The US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad flew to Kabul earlier this month, raising hopes of a breakthrough in negotiations.

    Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani announced the conditional release of three commanders in a televised address on Tuesday.

    "In order to pave the way for a face-to-face negotiations with the Taliban, the Government has decided to free Taliban prisoners in exchange for two university professors," Mr Ghani said.

    One of the prisoners is Anas Haqqani, the brother of the head of the powerful Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.

    The Taliban is yet to publicly comment on the offer.

    The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said Afghanistan was leading the negotiations with the Taliban over Mr Weeks's release.

    "We sincerely appreciate President Ghani's concern for Tim Weeks and Kevin King, and hope the Taliban immediately releases the hostages," a DFAT spokesman said.

    "The Australian government has never stopped pressing for their release, but we will not give a running commentary on the current process."

    'We are here with no help and no hope'

    In January 2017, the Taliban posted a video online in which Mr King and Mr Weeks begged the Australian and American governments to negotiate with their captors.

    "The people who promised to help us and take care of us when something went wrong have forsaken their promise and we are here with no help and no hope," Mr Weeks said.

    In the video, Mr Weeks broke down in tears and directly addressed his parents.

    "I know I may never see you again, but Dad, please, I want to come home. Please speak to the American Government. I ask you please, talk to these people," he said.

    "If we stay here for much longer, we will be killed. I don't want to die here."

    The US Government had offered a $US1 million reward for information leading to the safe location, recovery and return of Mr King.

    Last year, the president of the American University of Afghanistan, Kenneth Holland, said the Taliban was willing to consider a prisoner swap.

    "They are English teachers. They have no other purpose here but to help young people in Afghanistan to have a bright future," Mr Holland said.

    The Taliban has repeatedly warned Mr King was experiencing "dangerous" heart and kidney problems.

    Mr Ghani said he could no longer leave the men in captivity.

    "Our joint effort in tracing the two professors gave no result, and information suggests that their health and safety while being held by the kidnapping terrorists have deteriorated," he said.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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