Afghanistan government frees 3 jailed Haqqani Network militants in prisoner swap

Kabul: The Afghan government has freed three jailed leaders of the Haqqani Network in exchange for a US and an Australian professor who were abducted by the terror group here in August 2016, local media reported on Tuesday.

The prisoners were identified as Anas Haqqani, Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid, TOLO News reported.Afghanistan

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The development comes after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien, in two separate phone calls, to "review the steps necessary to release three Haqqani prisoners" and they agreed that "a ceasefire and/or reduction of violence was necessary to begin intra-Afghan negotiations", the Presidential Palace in Kabul said.

The US officials reiterated their support for President Ghani's decision and committed to work closely together to respond to any possible Taliban violence in the event that the group doesn't respond in good faith, the Palace said.

The announcement of their release was made by Ghani on November 12, but it was not confirmed if they were actually freed or not. The two lecturers -- Kevin King, 63, from the US, and Timothy Weeks, 50, from Australia-- worked in the American University of Afghanistan.

Anas Haqqani is the son of the late Jalaluddin Haqqani, former leader of the Haqqani Network.

As a Taliban-linked militant group, the Haqqani Network mostly operates in Afghanistan's eastern provinces and capital Kabul and responsible for many high-profile attacks on security forces.

The network was designated as a terrorist group by the US in 2012.