Afghanistan and the Taliban have reached a deal to release two American University teachers, including a U.S. citizen, in exchange for three Taliban members, the Afghan president said Tuesday morning.
President Ashraf Ghani said on national television Tuesday that the prisoner exchange would free two American University professors — U.S. citizen Kevin King and Australian citizen Timothy Weeks. The two were kidnapped at gunpoint from the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in August 2016.
Taliban commanders Anas Haqqani, Haji Maali Khan and Abdul Rasheed Haqani are also set to be released, the president said. Ghani said the three are members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network and are being released "conditionally in exchange" for the two professors, the Associated Press reported.
Ghani said in a statement live on state television Tuesday that the release of the prominent insurgents was a very hard decision that he made in the interest of the Afghan people, according to the Associated Press.
The release of the Taliban officials is intended to show Afghanistan's government's willingness toward peace talks, the president said.
Ghani said that the decision by Afghanistan's government to release the Taliban prisoners was made after consultation with the international community and the United States.
Taliban fighters have been battling U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces since they were toppled in 2001 after their government sheltered 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Anas Haqqani is the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who founded the Haqqani terror network under his name in the 1970s. Anas Haqqani has been in Afghan custody since October 2014 when U.S. security forces nabbed him while en route to Qatar from Bahrain.
Last year, his name topped the list of those the Taliban said must be released, according to Taliban officials at the time.