An American and an Australian were freed by the Taliban on Tuesday for three of its members as part of a prisoner exchange with Afghanistan’s government.
A Taliban official told The Associated Press that American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks were released in the Zabul province’s Naw Bahar district, which is mostly under Taliban control.
The men were given over to U.S. forces and exited the area in a U.S. helicopter, the news service reported.
The American University of Afghanistan confirmed the release of King and Weeks, who are both professors there.
The university said in a statement to the AP that its “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.”
The three Taliban prisoners were sent to Qatar, according to the AP.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement on Tuesday thanked the Afghan government for its efforts to free King and Weeks.
“President Ashraf Ghani has taken many courageous steps in the cause of peace. He extended an offer to talk to the Taliban without preconditions almost two years ago. Furthermore, he called for a ceasefire during the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr in 2018, which the Taliban reciprocated, and which demonstrated the Afghans’ overwhelming desire for peace,” Grisham said.
“President Trump has no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens,” she said, adding that the administration “will continue to work to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to launch terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies.”
Grisham said King and Weeks are currently receiving medical care.
“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,” she said.
It was reported last week that Ghani said his government had agreed to the “conditional release” of the Taliban members in exchange for King and Weeks’s freedom.
Ghani said the decision was made after consultations with the United States, according to NBC News.
The announcement followed stalled peace talks between between the U.S., Afghanistan and the Taliban. Trump called off negotiations in September after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that killed 11 civilians and a U.S. service member.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement Tuesday that Ghani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on Monday to review the necessary steps to implement the release of the Taliban detainees.
“Pompeo reiterated U.S. support for President Ghani’s decision and committed to work closely together to address violence if the President’s decision does not produce the intended results,” the statement said.
“Secretary Pompeo reaffirmed the continuation of U.S. support to Afghan security forces and hailed their performance. Ongoing security support and a political settlement are both necessary for Afghans to achieve peace and prevent international terrorists from ever again using Afghanistan as a platform for international terrorism,” Ortagus added.
—This report was updated at 11:29 a.m.