ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s Taliban released a new video Wednesday showing two professors, one American and one Australian, urging U.S. President Donald Trump to negotiate their freedom with the Islamist insurgent group.
American Kevin King, 60, and Australian Timothy Weeks, 48, teachers with the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, were kidnapped at gunpoint near the campus last August.
The Taliban wants freedom for its “soldiers” being held at the U.S.-run Bagram air base and the Afghan prison called Pul-e-Charkhi in return for freeing the two professors, the hostages said in their video message.
“My captors treat me well. They treat me and my colleague Tim Weeks as their guests; but every prisoner’s final wish is to get freedom from the prison,” said King, who was seen with a long beard.
King said he recorded the message on June 16.
Plea to Australian PM
For his part, Weeks urged Australian politicians to raise the issue in Parliament, saying the only way for him to go home is for the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to speak to the Taliban and Trump in order to reach an agreement with their captors.
“I pray that this happens shortly and that the Taliban soldiers may be returned home to their families for Eid [the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan] and that I may be able to go home to my family and to my friends. Help, please. Thank you,” said Weeks.
A U.S. State Department official said later Wednesday, "We are aware of a recent video purporting to feature a U.S. citizen kidnapped in Afghanistan. We are still working to examine the video and are not currently in a position to comment on it."
"We continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. Taking and holding civilian hostages is reprehensible and we condemn such actions in the strongest terms. The U.S. government is committed to seeing our citizens returned safely to their families and the department works closely with agencies across the government to do so," the official said.
The official said the department would be unable to comment further "due to privacy considerations."
The Afghan government did not immediately respond to the video.
This was the second video distributed by the Taliban to the news media since January as “proof of life” of the abductees in a bid to press for demands.
The hostages are believed to be in the custody of the notorious Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban.
Barnett Rubin, associate director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University and writer of several books on Afghanistan, said, "The video appears to show that the two men are in reasonable physical health but under tremendous emotional strain, as is natural.
"They repeat the demands of the Taliban for a prisoner exchange. It would be wrong to speculate about the sincerity or insincerity of their statements, nor does it even mean anything, as no one can make free decisions under such conditions," Rubin said. "I don't want to comment on specific demands as that could disrupt ongoing efforts. I am sure the U.S. and Australian and Afghan governments are doing their utmost."
Michael Kugleman, a Pakistan-Afghanistan analyst at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan policy research group in Washington, said, "Watching this video is heartbreaking. The professors do not look or sound well, they look nervous, and they appear to be engaging in propaganda on the Taliban's behalf."
The video's release comes at a time when Afghan authorities are reportedly planning to execute a group of Taliban prisoners convicted on terrorism charges.
It is not clear, however, whether Annas Haqqani, a son of the founder of the Haqqani network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is among the group of prisoners.
Afghan officials have not confirmed the reports, and the Taliban, in response, has threatened to unleash new attacks against all Afghan institutions if the government goes ahead with the executions.
The Afghan insurgents are also holding another U.S. citizen, Caitlan Coleman, 31, and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, 33. They were kidnapped by the Taliban in 2012.
In a video message released in December, the couple urged then-President-elect Trump to negotiate with the Taliban to secure their release in return for the prisoners.