A day after Donald Trump claimed Taliban talks resumed, the Afghan armed group says meetings had taken place in Doha.
Speaking in Sydney on Sunday for the first time since he was freed in a prisoner swap deal, 50-year-old Timothy Weeks said he never lost hope but the captivity “had a profound and unimaginable effect” on him.
Detailing a “hellish life” spent moving between windowless cells in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Weeks said: “After almost 1,200 days, our ordeal ended as abruptly as it had begun.”
Weeks and American colleague Kevin King were freed on November 20 as part of a deal between the Taliban, the US, Australian and Afghan governments.
The pair – both professors at the American University in Kabul – were kidnapped by gunmen wearing military uniforms as they returned home from classes in August 2016.
“I struggle to find words to express just how completely this has changed me. At times, I felt as if my death was imminent, and that I would never return to see those that I loved again,” he said. “But, by the will of God, I am here, I am alive and I am safe.”
One attempt came in April this year. Weeks said he was woken at 2am by his guards who told him they were under attack from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters and moved him into a tunnel beneath where they were being held.
“I believe now that it was the Navy SEALs coming in to get us. And the moment that we got into the tunnels, we were just one or two metres underground. There was a huge bang at the front door.
“Our guards went up and there was a lot of machine-gun fire,” he said. “I believe it was the Navy SEALs right outside our door. I think they came in six times to try to get us. And that a number of times they missed us only by hours.”
While expressing thanks to President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for the work that led to their release, Weeks said some Taliban guards he encountered were “lovely people”.
“I don’t hate them at all,” he said. “And some of them, I have great respect for and great love for, almost. Some of them were so compassionate and such lovely, lovely people. And it really led me to think about … how did they end up like this?”
He added: “I know a lot of people don’t admit this but for me they were soldiers. And soldiers obey the commands of their commanders. [They] don’t get a choice.”
Weeks said he hugged some of his Taliban guards when they parted company on the day of his and King’s release.
Still, the sight of the two US Black Hawk helicopters arriving to take them away had been an enormous relief.
“From the moment I sighted both Black Hawk helicopters and was placed in the hands of special forces, I knew my long and tortuous ordeal had come to an end,” he said.
“Out of a big dust cloud came six special forces and they walked towards us and one of them stepped towards me and he just put his arm around me and he held me and he said, ‘are you OK?’ And then he walked me back to the Black Hawk.”