An American and an Australian were held hostage by the Taliban since 2016 and were released this week. Negotiations have been taking place for over three years, and an exchange was made for the release of three Taliban members from the Kabul government. The American was Kevin King, and the Australian was Timothy Weeks, who was freed after being abducted outside the American University in Kabul. Both men were teachers at the University. A Taliban official who was not allowed to speak to the media confirmed, “King and Weeks were safely handed over to the U.S. forces” and left the massive controlled Taliban district by helicopter.
Stephanie Miller, who is King’s sister, said, “We are so happy to hear that my brother has been freed and is on his way home to us. This has been a long and painful ordeal for our entire family, and his safe return has been our highest priority. We appreciate the support we have received and ask for privacy as we await Kevin’s safe return.”
The two men were freed a few hours after the Afghanistan government released the three Taliban members. According to the Afghan government, the three Taliban members were, “Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the fearsome Haqqani network. The other two were Hajji Malik Khan, an uncle of Haqqani and a Haqqani lieutenant, Hafiz Abdul Rashid.” The Taliban wanted proof these men reached Qatar before they would oblige to their end of the bargain.
The American University of Afghanistan stated 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 Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan also stated they appreciated all the “steps taken by all involved to make it possible.” Peace talks have been trying to regain momentum, and Pakistan had an influence on the Taliban behind the scenes.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated it was not an easy decision to release the Taliban prisoners. The Taliban has never been trusted, but he put the interest of his people before his own thoughts.
King’s family gave a shout out to “Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien for their behind the scenes efforts to get Ghani on board with the prisoner swap.”
Months after the two men’s abduction, in 2017, videos were released by the Taliban of King and Weeks appearing thin and pale. Later another video was sent where they seemed healthier. Both said the Taliban treated them well but would not release them. Appeals were sent to the governments, but no one knows if they were forced to speak.
U.S. officials stated, “American forces had launched a rescue mission to free the two, but the captives were not found at the raided location. The prisoner exchange was intended to try to restart talks to end Afghanistan’s 18-year war and allow for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.”
In September, there were efforts of peace talks, but it was quickly shut down when a U.S. soldier was killed after an attack at the Afghan capital. Not long after, an agreement was made for the Afghan government and Taliban to met and put an end to their war. Ghani told Pompeo and O’Brien he “wanted a reduction in violence and an all-out cease-fire.” Pompeo replied, “The United States was committed to working closely together to address violence if the President’s decision does not produce the intended results.”
A cease-fire was called when it came time to release the hostages, and it is still ongoing where no shots were fired by either side. There are three districts where an “unofficial” cease-fire is observed, Shahjoy, Shahmatzo, and New Bahar. It is a great sign and sigh of relief, but almost where a person wants to hold their breath instead of release it because neither side knows how to handle peace. These are countries and people who have been fighting for years. Indeed, the release of the two prisoners without any harm or casualties or anything going wrong was a tremendous step in the right direction. If the Taliban and Afganistan can agree to end their war, it will be another victory, not only for them but for the entire world. Peace will eventually find its way around the world if enough people let it in and put their pride away.