(Voice of America): Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in a televised speech to the nation earlier this week, announced that his government would release three prominent Taliban members in exchange for two Westerners abducted by the Taliban as a confidence-building measure with the insurgent group. “We have decided to conditionally release three Taliban prisoners who have been detained outside of Afghanistan with the help and coordination of our international partners and have been kept in Bagram prison [north of Kabul] in Afghanistan for some time,” Ghani said. The Western hostages are American Kevin King and Australian Timothy John Weeks who have been in Taliban’s captivity since 2016 when they were abducted from the capital, Kabul. Both were professors at the American University of Afghanistan. Since Ghani’s announcement of the deal Tuesday, there have been several conflicting reports about the whereabouts of the three inmates, with no comments from the Afghan government. Some reports say the inmates have been transferred to Qatar where the Taliban has a political office, while other reports allege they are still in Afghanistan. However, a spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban told VOA Friday that the inmates have not left the prison, and he blamed the U.S. for the failure of the swap. “As per the deal with the Americans, our prisoners were to be taken to the mutually agreed safe location and freed there. We would have then released and handed the American (and his colleague) over to them,” Zabihullah Mujahid explained in a Pashto-language audio message he sent to VOA, implying that the talks were with the U.S. not the Afghan government. U.S. officials have not immediately reacted to the Taliban claim. The Afghan Ministry of Defense declined to comment on the issue or the whereabouts of the inmates. An Afghan diplomat Wednesday confirmed to Reuters, on condition of anonymity, that the deal has fallen apart. In announcing the decision, Ghani said while it was not “easy,” it was “necessary.” “I have said this several times that enduring and dignified peace requires us to, one day, pay its bitter price. But this price would not come at the expense of the republic,” Ghani added. Reactions among Afghans were mixed, with some hoping that it would lead to the beginning of direct dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who have refused so far to talk to the Afghan government, calling it a “puppet” regime. Others viewed it as an insult to the victims of the terror attacks carried out by the militants in Afghanistan over the years.