Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced Tuesday the conditional release of three high-ranking Taliban members in exchange for two American University professors who have been held captive by the Islamic militant group since 2016.
The prisoners were released Tuesday.
Ghani said during a nationally televised press conference that his government has made a deal with the Taliban for the release of U.S. citizen Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, who were abducted in August 2016 as they traveled through Kabul where they taught at the American University of Afghanistan.
In exchange, the Afghan government is to release Anas Haqqani and two other members of the Haqqani wing of the Taliban.
It was a "tough but important decision" influenced by the "critical" poor health of King and Weeks.
"Our joint effort in tracing the two professors gave no result and information suggests that their health and safety while being held by the kidnapping terrorists have deteriorated," Ghani said.
The professors were captured in August 2016.
Ghani said they consulted with the United States and other allies before releasing the Haqqani prisoners.
Ghani said the deal could prove as a launchpad for talks between his government and the Taliban, which has said it won't negotiate with the Middle Eastern government as they view it as a U.S. puppet regime.
"In order to pave the way for a face-to-face negotiations with the Taliban, the government has decided to free Taliban prisoners in exchange for two university professors," he said.
"The prisoners were arrested outside the country with the cooperation of our international allies and they were in custody at Bagram [military base] under the government of Afghanistan," Ghani said.
U.S. Ambassador to Kabul John Bass said he supports the release of the Taliban prisoners.
"We hope that the Taliban will respond to this important humanitarian gesture with its own humanitarian gesture in the coming days by releasing Afghan security force prisoners," Bass said.
The Taliban hasn't commented.
In January 2017, the Taliban released a video in which King and Weeks pleaded for Trump to secure their release.
"I ask you, please, to negotiate with the Taliban," Weeks said in the video. "If you do not negotiate with them, we will be killed."