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Afghan president: 3 Taliban released for held US, Australian

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday announced that his government has released three prominent Taliban figures in an effort to get the insurgents to free an American and an Australian professor they abducted in 2016.

At a press event broadcast live on state television, Ghani told the nation that the release of the three was very hard decision he felt he had to make in the interest of the Afghan people.

The three members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network include Anas Haqqani, Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid, Ghani said, adding that they are being released "conditionally in exchange" for the two professors.

He did not elaborate or say exactly when and where the three were released.

The two Taliban captives — an American identified as Kevin King and an Australian man identified as Timothy Weekes — were abducted outside the American University in Kabul in 2016.

The following year, the Taliban released two videos showing the American and Australian captives. A video in January 2017 showed them appearing pale and gaunt. In the later video, King and Weekes looked healthier and said a deadline for their release was set for June 16 that year.

Both said they are being treated well by the Taliban but that they remain prisoners and appealed to their governments to help set them free. It was impossible to know whether they were forced to speak.

Subsequently, U.S. officials said that American forces had launched a rescue mission to free the two, but the captives were not found at the raided location.

In Tuesday's address, Ghani added that the Taliban kidnapping of the two teachers of the American University was not representing Islamic and Afghan traditions.

"We have decided to release these three Taliban prisoners who were arrested outside of Afghanistan," Ghani said, adding that it was meant "to facilitate direct peace negotiations."

This story has been corrected to show that eh American and Australian professor were abducted in 2016, not 2017.