After being held captive by the Taliban for over three years, Australian professor Timothy Weeks has finally been released, along with his American colleague, Kevin King. Weeks described his time in captivity as a “long and torturous ordeal,” but said he never gave up hope that he would eventually be rescued.
“The time that I spent as a hostage with the Taliban has had a profound and unimaginable effect on me,” said Timothy Weeks, speaking at a press conference. “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 love again. But, by the will of God, I am here. I am alive and I am safe and I am free. There is nothing else in the world that I need.”
What Happened to Timothy Weeks and Kevin King
Timothy Weeks is from New South Wales in Australia and was teaching at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. He had been teaching for only a few weeks when he and his colleague, Kevin King, were kidnapped outside the university after finishing their evening classes. King (who at the time of the press conference was still undergoing treatment) was just shy of his sixtieth birthday, while Weeks was in his late forties.
Weeks told reporters that it had always been a dream of his to go to Afghanistan, in part because of stories his grandmother used to tell him. He said, “I saw it as a wonderful opportunity.” But after he was kidnapped, “Life as I had known it ceased to exist.”
While he and King were hostages, Weeks said their captors moved them around to different, remote locations within Afghanistan and Pakistan. Access to medical care was limited, and they were kept in small cells. They were often in the dark for long periods of time, something Weeks said was “quite difficult.” How their captors treated them depended on who their guards and commander were, but Weeks said that “For the majority of the time, I was treated as well as could be expected under the conditions I was under.”
At one point in April, the Taliban guards awoke Weeks and King at 2 a.m. and hurried them underground as an attack ensued. While the guards told them it was “Daesh” (that is, the Islamic State), Weeks said, “I now believe it was the Navy SEALs coming to get us.” He believes the SEALs tried to rescue them six times and that “a number of times, they missed us only by hours.”
Weeks and King were finally rescued as part of a deal the U.S. negotiated between the Afghan government and the Taliban in which three senior Afghan militants were traded for the two teachers. The purpose of the deal was to facilitate the resumption of peace talks between the U.S and the Taliban, talks President Donald Trump canceled in September because of repeated attacks from the Taliban on Kabul (one attack resulted in the death of an American soldier). Weeks said the fact that the exchange might help peace talks to resume, “brings great joy to me…I pray that they will be successful.”
The university professor said he never gave up hope that he would be rescued, but that it “just took a little longer than I expected.” Finally, in November special forces soldiers picked up King and Weeks in Black Hawk helicopters. Weeks said, “I was overwhelmed by the compassion that the American soldiers showed me…I cannot thank them enough.”
When asked if he hated his captors, the professor responded, “I don’t hate them at all.” He explained that the primary people he interacted with were his guards, whom he saw as soldiers. And soldiers have no choice but to obey their commanding officers. “They were there because they were ordered to come and look after me,” he said. “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, you know, how did they end up like this?” As they waited for the American soldiers to arrive, Weeks said some of his guards even hugged him and encouraged him that he would get to see his family soon.
Weeks said he has a lot of plans for what to do now he is free, one of which is to take a vacation. When asked specifically about how he has changed because of his captivity, he said, “I feel a lot stronger now…If I have gone through this, I can do anything. It has given me a great sense of hope and a great sense of confidence.”