Afghanistan is to “conditionally” release three high-ranking Taliban prisoners in exchange for two American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) professors who were kidnapped by the group three years ago, President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday.
Ghani said that Afghanistan had decided to release the prisoners “to pave the way” for the release of US citizen Kevin King and Australian citizen Timothy Weeks.
One of the Taliban prisoners is Anas Haqqani, who is the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani – deputy leader of the group and leader of the Haqqani Network. Two other senior commanders, Haji Mali Khan and Abdul Rashid, are part of the deal.
The AUAF professors were forcibly removed from a vehicle while traveling in Kabul in August 2016, according to the FBI.
“Their health condition has deteriorated during captivity with the terrorist kidnappers,” Ghani said in a televised statement.
The President added that Afghanistan had made the decision in consultation with international partners, including the US.
In 2017, the Taliban released a video purportedly showing the professors begging then President-elect Donald Trump to make a deal for their release.
If successful, the swap would be the most significant diplomatic development between the Taliban, the Afghanistan government and the Trump administration since the US president canceled peace talks in September.
Trump tweeted then that he had scrapped the meeting after the Taliban took credit for an attack in Kabul that killed a dozen people, including an American soldier.
Ghani did not confirm when the release would take place and the Taliban has not yet officially commented on the decision.
In a statement, the university said it was “encouraged” by reports of a possible release.
“While AUAF is not part of these discussions, we continue to urge the immediate and safe return of our faculty members who have been held in captivity, away from their friends and families, for more than three years,” the statement read.