Taliban releases 2 kidnapped American University of Afghanistan professors

WASHINGTON — The Taliban has freed two Western hostages, the American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, after holding them in captivity for more than three years, an American official and the prime minister of neighboring Pakistan said Tuesday.

A U.S. official with knowledge of the release said the American University of Kabul professors, who were kidnapped at gunpoint in August 2016, were in the hands of the Americans. Their health was being evaluated and the two were being debriefed, added the official who was not authorized to speak to the media on the subject.

Image: Australian professor Timothy Weeks pictured making a statement on camera in 2017.

"We appreciate steps taken by all involved to make it possible," Prime Minister Imran Khan said via Twitter. "As part of the international community working to bring peace and end the suffering of the Afghan people, Pakistan has fully supported and facilitated this release as part of its policy of supporting initiatives for a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan conflict."

Taliban sources said the two hostages had been handed over in Zabul province, on the border with Pakistan.

On Nov. 12, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a deal to release the two hostages in exchange for three Taliban members.

According to the Taliban, Anas Haqqani, Haji Maali Khan and Hafiz Rasheed Ahamd Omari have also been released.

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Haqqani network -- a Taliban-linked group
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Haqqani network -- a Taliban-linked group
MIRAM SHAH, PAKISTAN - APRIL 2: A picture dated 02 April 1991 shows Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani (C) at his Pakistani base in Miram Shah with Amin Wardak and Abdul Haq, two top guerilla commanders. The Taliban said they had surrounded 50 followers of opposition commander Abdul Haq and acclaimed his capture 26 October 2001 as a major triumph, Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency said. (Photo credit should read ZUBAIR MIR/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with Afghanistan-Pakistan-unrest-Haqqani,FOCUS by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson In this photo taken on April 8, 2010, an Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier inspects seized guns recovered during a house-to-house search in Shembowat village of Khost province. Hours before the children arrive, US soldiers take up positions in a pitch-black school, rooms riddled with bullets holes from one of a wave of attacks blamed on the Haqqani network. When the sun rises, their Afghan counterparts go house-to-house around Shembowat village to try and root out supporters of a Haqqani cell that has been mounting attacks on security forces in the mountains of Khost province. This is the heartland of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated armed group that has become a particularly prickly thorn in the side of US-led forces trying to bring security to eastern Afghanistan. The network is one of their toughest foes. Its leadership is based in Pakistan, it has a decentralised cell structure, close ties with foreign militant groups including Al-Qaeda and a long history in the area. AFP PHOTO/Massoud HOSSAINI (Photo credit should read MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with Afghanistan-Pakistan-unrest-Haqqani,FOCUS by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson In this photo taken on April 8, 2010, Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers near weapons recovered during a house-to-house search in Shembowat village of Khost province. Hours before the children arrive, US soldiers take up positions in a pitch-black school, rooms riddled with bullets holes from one of a wave of attacks blamed on the Haqqani network. When the sun rises, their Afghan counterparts go house-to-house around Shembowat village to try and root out supporters of a Haqqani cell that has been mounting attacks on security forces in the mountains of Khost province. This is the heartland of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated armed group that has become a particularly prickly thorn in the side of US-led forces trying to bring security to eastern Afghanistan. The network is one of their toughest foes. Its leadership is based in Pakistan, it has a decentralised cell structure, close ties with foreign militant groups including Al-Qaeda and a long history in the area. AFP PHOTO/Massoud HOSSAINI (Photo credit should read MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with Afghanistan-Pakistan-unrest-Haqqani,FOCUS by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson In this photo taken on April 8, 2010, an Afghan National Army (ANA) General shows seized explosives near guns recovered during a house-to-house search in Shembowat village of Khost province. Hours before the children arrive, US soldiers take up positions in a pitch-black school, rooms riddled with bullets holes from one of a wave of attacks blamed on the Haqqani network. When the sun rises, their Afghan counterparts go house-to-house around Shembowat village to try and root out supporters of a Haqqani cell that has been mounting attacks on security forces in the mountains of Khost province. This is the heartland of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated armed group that has become a particularly prickly thorn in the side of US-led forces trying to bring security to eastern Afghanistan. The network is one of their toughest foes. Its leadership is based in Pakistan, it has a decentralised cell structure, close ties with foreign militant groups including Al-Qaeda and a long history in the area. AFP PHOTO/Massoud HOSSAINI (Photo credit should read MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - May 24: U.S. soldiers on a mission to apprehend an alleged Haqqani network fighter they suspected of participating in a bombing that killed 5 Afghan policemen in January.  (Photo by Joshua Partlow/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'Afghanistan-unrest-Haqqani-Pakistan,FOCUS' by Benjamin Sheppard US soldiers from Viper company (Bravo) 1-26 Infantry are seen on foot patrol in a mountainous area 30 kilometers from the border with Pakistan at Combat Outpost (COP) Sabari in Khost province, east of Afghanistan on June 24, 2011. The United States is preparing for talks with Taliban rebels to end the war in Afghanistan, but the real enemy in the country's east is another militia group viewed as beyond reconciliation. The brutal Haqqani network is the driving force behind the insurgency along much of Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, and its rejection of any Kabul government presents a major threat to the developing peace plans. AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
PAKTIKA, AFGHANISTAN - AUGUST 28: Apache Company 2-28 Infantry patrol Sar Hawza on August 28, 2011 in the Paktika Province in Afghanistan. The region has been under attacks by the Haqqani Network. (Photo by Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images)
PAKTIKA, AFGHANISTAN - AUGUST 28: Apache Company 2-28 Infantry patrol Sar Hawza on August 28, 2011 in the Paktika Province in Afghanistan. The region has been under attacks by the Haqqani Network. (Photo by Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images)
PAKTIKA, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 2: Apache Company 2-28 Infantry patrol Mata Khan on September 2, 2011 in the Paktika Province in Afghanistan. The region has been under attacks by the Haqqani Network. (Photo by Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images)
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN - OCTOBER 31:Afghani and U.S. soldiers patrol Afghan villages asking about Taliban and Haqqani network activity in the area in the Paktika Province, Afghanistan on October 31, 2011. U.S. soldiers were trying to determine if insurgents passed through the villages and how they were treating the people. They entered the men of the villages into their biometric database, taking finger-prints and retinal scans(Photo by Joshua Partlow/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - NOVEMBER 11: The scene with the bullet holes on the wall where Nasiruddin Haqqani, the eldest son of Jalaluddin Haqqani the chief of the Haqqani network is shot dead in Barakahu town near Islamabad on 10 November. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Pakistani children look at bullet holes at the spot where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated outside the Afghan bakery in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad on November 11, 2013. A senior member of the Haqqani militant network which is seen as one of the biggest threats to US-led forces in Afghanistan has been shot dead in the Pakistani capital, the Taliban said November 11. AFP PHOTO/Farooq NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Insurgents suspected of being from the Haqqani network are presented to the media at the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) headquarters in Kabul on May 30, 2013. Afghan intelligence agents captured six militants with suicide vests and heavy weaponry who were planning a major attack in Kabul. AFP/ Daud Yardost (Photo credit should read DAUD YARDOST/AFP/Getty Images)
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Abigail Williams reported from Washington; Ahmed Mengli reported from Kabul; Mushtaq Yusufzai from Peshawar, Pakistan; and Saphora Smith from London.

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