Two French journalists held hostage for 18 months by the Taliban have returned to France after being freed by their captors, The Washington Post reported.

Dogged by questions surrounding their liberation, television reporter, Herve Ghesquiere, with tears in his eyes, described being confined 23 and three-quarters hours a day and repeatedly having his hopes raise of an imminent release, only to have them dashed.

When you crawl out of a hole and there's nothing for 18 months ... Whoo! Ghesquiere said, at a loss for words.

Cameraman Stephane Taponier, at his side, broke into a grin as he said, We're doing really, really, really well.

The two, who work for state-run France-3 television, were released with their Afghan translator, Reza Din, on Wednesday. They were abducted in December 2009 while working on a story about reconstruction east of Kabul. Two Afghan journalists who were kidnapped along with them were freed earlier.

Greeted at the airport by relatives and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the two told reporters they were not beaten or mistreated by their captors, but suffered difficult living conditions; the men were also held separately in isolation for the majority of their captivity.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, saying on Thursday they released the journalists in exchange for an unspecified number of insurgents held as prisoners.

And in a statement, Taliban Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the French government was forced to release our high-ranking fighters and, with the help of Allah, the exchange of the hostages occurred.

The Taliban did not say who released the fighters or where they had been held.

We congratulate the fighters from Kapisa province and the relatives of those who got released from the enemy's hands, Mujahid said.

Afghanistan's eastern Kapisa province is the region where the French journalists were taken hostage Dec. 29, 2009, after deciding to separate from French troops in Kapisa with whom they were embedded.

French officials said the government did not pay ransom for the return of the journalists.

Sarkozy praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday for his handling of the situation and thanked others involved in securing the hostages' freedom.