Timothy Weeks with sisters Alyssa Carter and Joanne Carter AAP
Aussie hostage hugged by Taliban
The Australian
Natasha Robinson
Monday, December 2, 2019

Freed Australian hostage Timothy Weeks "never gave up hope" that he would be rescued during his three years in detention, where he developed extraordinary bonds with some of his Afghan captors. Mr Weeks, 50, has described how he embraced Taliban guards as US Black Hawk helicopters came to free him and fellow hostage, American Kevin King.

"We were taken out in the morning and we were driven to the location where they handed us over," Mr Weeks said. "And the Taliban all changed out of their civilian clothes into military uniforms, into khaki fatigues. Some of the guards gave me hugs and said, you know, 'This is your recovery, you're going now, you're going home to see your family.'

"From the moment I sighted Black Hawk helicopters and was placed in the hands of special forces, I knew my long and torturous ordeal had come to an end."

Mr Weeks learned to speak Pashtun in captivity and formed warm relationships with some of the Taliban guards who watched over him. "For the majority of time, I was treated as well as could be expected under the conditions I was under," said Mr Weeks, speaking in Sydney on Sunday.

"For me, they were soldiers and soldiers obey the commands of their commanders, they don't get a choice. They were there because they were ordered to come and look after me. I don't hate them at all. And some of them I have great respect for and, and great love for, almost."

Mr Weeks and Mr King, both professors, were teaching at the American University in Kabul before their abduction on August 7, 2016. The two men were released by the Taliban last week as part of a prisoner swap with the US.

The US released three Taliban prisoners in exchange for the men.

Mr Weeks welcomed the resumption of peace talks between the US, the Taliban and the Afghan government. "This brings great joy to me," he said. "I pray that they will be successful, and that they may enable the return of stability and security to the country of Afghanistan, and the region." Mr Weeks, who recounted previous failed attempts by US special forces to rescue him, said he had not expected to be held in captivity for so long, but always believed he would eventually be rescued. He described how, in April this year, he was bundled by his Taliban captors into underground tunnels when an American hostage rescue operation was imminent.

"There was a lot of machinegun fire and they pushed me over the top and into the tunnels and I fell down backwards and rolled and knocked myself out unconscious," he said. "So at that point, I was fairly fearful. I believe at that point the navy SEALs were right outside our door."

Mr Weeks said although he had not expected his eventual rescue to take so long, he was incredibly grateful to be alive. "The time that I spent as a hostage with the Taliban has had a profound and unimaginable effect on me. 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. But I had hope all the time. I never, ever gave up hope.

I think in that sort of situation that if you give up hope, there is very little left for you. I knew that I would leave that place eventually, it just took a little longer than I expected. By the will of God, I am here. I am alive and I am safe. And I am free. There's nothing else in the world that I need. I feel a lot stronger now.

I feel like if I've gone through this, I can do anything." He now plans to take a holiday and, eventually, return to further study.

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