The Taliban on Tuesday freed two hostages, an American and Australian, in a prisoner swap for three senior Taliban leaders.
Kevin C. King, the American, and Timothy J. Weeks were teachers at the American University in Kabul when they were abducted in 2016 in an attack that left 13 others dead. King and Weeks to be in good health, a senior Trump administration official told the New York Times.
Their release was partly negotiated by American peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who was involved in negotiations with the Taliban this summer for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Those negotiations were stopped by President Trump after a car bomb attack killed an American soldier.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said the current prisoner exchange could “facilitate direct peace negotiations” between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Taliban have refused to negotiate with Ghani’s government until the U.S. finalizes a plan to withdraw troops from the country, while Ghani demands a ceasefire between insurgents and the government as a precondition for starting talks.
Insurgent leaders Anas Haqqani, Hafiz Abdul Rashid and Hajji Mali Khan were released to the Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar, according to the Trump administration official. Haqqani was a prominent fundraiser and propagandist for the Taliban, while Rashid has equipped and coordinated suicide bombers.