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White House welcomes release of two Western hostages in Afghanistan

The White Hous e on Tuesday welcomed the release of an American and an Australian hostage in Afghanistan, saying both men had been “successfully recovered” and were receiving US 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,” Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks were handed over to US forces by the Taliban on Tuesday in a successful swap for three high-ranking insurgent prisoners that could boost peace talks.
“We thank the Afghan government for its actions, in the spirit of our partnership that enabled the freeing of the hostages,” Grisham said.
The exchange of American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks for the militants -- including Anas Haqqani, brother to the Taliban’s deputy leader -- was termed a “confidence-building” measure by both the Australian government and the insurgents.
“We are profoundly pleased and relieved”, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement, adding that Weeks’ family had asked the government to convey their relief and gratitude.
King and Weeks, both professors at the American University in Kabul, were kidnapped by gunmen wearing military uniforms in the heart of Afghan capital in August 2016.
They later appeared looking haggard in a Taliban hostage video, with the insurgents going on to say that King was in poor health.
The two professors were driven by car to Nawbahar district in Zabul, a southern province bordering Pakistan, earlier on Tuesday, an insurgent source told AFP. They were freed at around 10:00 am and flown out of Zabul on American helicopters, according to a local police source. American media cited King’s family as saying he was receiving medical care in US custody.
The Taliban’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the transfer of the Taliban prisoners “is complete, and they have arrived where they were supposed to come”.
The swap could indicate a breakthrough in stalled efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul and begin work towards a political settlement ending their 18-year insurgency.