Peshawar/Washington - A North American family that had been held hostage by the Afghan Taliban has been freed following an operation in Pakistan, bringing an end to the couple’s nearly five years in captivity.

Canadian Joshua Boyle, 34, and his American wife Caitlan Coleman, 31, were kidnapped by the Haqqanis, a militant group aligned with Afghan Taliban, during a backpacking trip in Afghanistan 2012.

Pakistan military said in a statement on Thursday that US intelligence officials had been tracking the family and had alerted Pakistan when the hostages were moved into the tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

“Pak Army recovered five Western hostages including one Canadian, his US national wife and their three children from terrorist custody,” it said of the rescue operation in Kurram district. The hostages are “safe and sound and are being repatriated to the country of their origin,” it added.

“We welcome media reports that a family including US citizens has been released from captivity,” a US embassy spokesman in Islamabad said.

President Donald Trump heralded the operation as a “positive moment” for the tense relationship between US and Pakistan.

In a statement on Thursday he said, “Ms Coleman gave birth to the couple’s three children while they were in captivity... Today they are free.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US expresses “deep gratitude” to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s military said: “The success underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment towards fighting this menace through cooperation between two forces against a common enemy.”

Canada voiced relief at the release of the Canadian man and his family. “We are greatly relieved that after being held hostage for five years, Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman, as well as their young children, have been released and are safe,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. “Joshua, Caitlan, their children and the Boyle and Coleman families have endured a horrible ordeal over the past five years,” she added in a statement.

Freeland said Canada had been “actively engaged with the governments of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan” in trying to free the couple, but provided no details.

Afghanistan is rife with militants and organised criminal gangs who stage kidnappings for ransom, often targeting wealthy Afghans and foreigners, who sometimes have been ferried over the border into Pakistan’s tribal belt – much of which has been cleared of terrorist hideouts after a series of successful military operations.

Boyle’s family said they had received a call from their son early Thursday morning to share the news of their release. “Josh said he was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison,” Patrick Boyle told the Toronto Star. His son also told him that he and Coleman had had a third baby – a little girl – who was born two months ago.

“This is a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan,” Trump said in his statement. “The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region.”

“The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wish that it do more to provide security in the region,” Trump told reporters. “They worked very hard on this, and I believe they’re starting to respect the United States again,” he said.

“I think right now a lot of countries are starting to respect the United States of America once again.”

“We hope to see this type of cooperation and teamwork in helping secure the release of remaining hostages and in our future joint counterterrorism operations,” Trump added.

Pakistan has been under increased pressure from Washington to crack down on alleged militant sanctuaries inside its borders after Trump lambasted the country in a televised address in August.

During the speech, Trump accused Islamabad of sheltering “agents of chaos” and suggested ties with Pakistan would be adjusted immediately but offered few details.

Pakistan – which have carried out massive campaigns against all kinds of terrorists over the years — had reacted sharply to the accusations, saying it won’t become a scapegoat for the stalemate in the 16 years long US-led war in Afghanistan.

The country said it has sacrificed more than any other partner in the war against terror, losing thousands of civilian and military lives and suffering losses to its economy that ran into billions of dollars. The tension escalated to the breaking point, with Islamabad cancelling visits of American officials.

The rescue comes some 10 months after the couple’s captors released a video, showing Boyle, Coleman, and two of their children – both of whom were born in captivity – pleading with their governments to negotiate with their captors.

In the video, Coleman described their ordeal as “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves”.

Their capture came after a backpacking trip that began in Russia and took them through Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before arriving in northern Afghanistan. Coleman, who is from Pennsylvania, was pregnant with their first child.

Coleman’s parents said they had last heard from their son-in-law in 2012, who contacted them from an internet cafe in what he described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

In 2013, the couple appeared in two videos pleading with the US government to free them from the Taliban. Coleman’s parents later told reporters that they had received a letter in which their daughter said she had given birth to a second child in captivity.

In the most recent video, the couple refer to their two sons as their “surviving children” without explanation, indicating Coleman potentially miscarried.A letter sent to Boyle’s parents and shared with the Toronto Star last year detailed the lengths the couple went to deliver their second son; hiding the pregnancy from captors until Boyle delivered the child in the darkness, guided only by a flashlight clenched between his teeth.

“The astonished captors were good and brought all our post-partum needs, so he is now fat and healthy, praise God,” Boyle wrote in the letter. “We are trying to keep spirits high for the children and play Beautiful Life,” he added, believed to be a reference to the Italian film in which a father shields his son from the realities of a Nazi concentration camp by pretending they are in a game.

 

The last known footage of Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman surfaced in December last year when they appeared in video urging their governments to secure their release. They were pictured holding their two young sons, who had been born while they were in captivity.

 

It was not clear when the last known footage of the captives was shot, but it was released (in December last year) after rumours swirled in Kabul that the government was planning to execute Anas Haqqani, son of the Taliban-allied Haqqani network’s founder, who has been held since 2014.

The Haqqani network has been accused of masterminding several high-profile terrorist attacks in the Afghan capital and have been known to kidnap Western hostages and smuggle them across the border into Pakistan.

Kurram tribal agency borders Nangarhar and Paktia provinces in Afghanistan. Both are riven by militancy, with the Islamic State group gaining a foothold in Nangarhar and Paktia seen as a Haqqani stronghold.

The Taliban are also believed to be holding American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weekes, both professors at the American University of Afghanistan, who were dragged from their vehicles in Kabul by gunmen in August last year.

US Special Operations forces conducted a secret raid authorised by then-president Barack Obama to rescue them, but the hostages were not there, the Pentagon said at the time. They most recently appeared in a hostage video released in June this year.

FREED COUPLE NOT YET ON US PLANE

A couple freed from the Taliban did not immediately board a US-bound plane from Pakistan over the Canadian husband’s concerns he might face American scrutiny for links to a former Guantanamo Bay captive, an official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the US military official told AFP that Joshua Boyle and his American wife Caitlan Coleman, along with their three children, were hesitating to get on the US military jet.

In 2009, Boyle was briefly married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Canadian-born Omar Khadr who spent a decade at Guantanamo.

The official said Boyle did not risk any repercussions by boarding an American plane. “It is not in our intention to do anything like that. We are prepared to bring them back home,” the official said.

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captors released a video, showing Boyle, Coleman, and two of their children – both of whom were born in captivity – pleading with their governments to negotiate with their captors.

In the video, Coleman described their ordeal as “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves”.

Their capture came after a backpacking trip that began in Russia and took them through Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before arriving in northern Afghanistan. Coleman, who is from Pennsylvania, was pregnant with their first child.

Coleman’s parents said they had last heard from their son-in-law in 2012, who contacted them from an internet cafe in what he described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

In 2013, the couple appeared in two videos pleading with the US government to free them from the Taliban. Coleman’s parents later told reporters that they had received a letter in which their daughter said she had given birth to a second child in captivity.

In the most recent video, the couple refer to their two sons as their “surviving children” without explanation, indicating Coleman potentially miscarried.A letter sent to Boyle’s parents and shared with the Toronto Star last year detailed the lengths the couple went to deliver their second son; hiding the pregnancy from captors until Boyle delivered the child in the darkness, guided only by a flashlight clenched between his teeth.

“The astonished captors were good and brought all our post-partum needs, so he is now fat and healthy, praise God,” Boyle wrote in the letter. “We are trying to keep spirits high for the children and play Beautiful Life,” he added, believed to be a reference to the Italian film in which a father shields his son from the realities of a Nazi concentration camp by pretending they are in a game.

The last known footage of Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman surfaced in December last year when they appeared in video urging their governments to secure their release. They were pictured holding their two young sons, who had been born while they were in captivity. It was not clear when the last known footage of the captives was shot, but it was released (in December last year) after rumours swirled in Kabul that the government was planning to execute Anas Haqqani, son of the Taliban-allied Haqqani network’s founder, who has been held since 2014.

The Haqqani network has been accused of masterminding several high-profile terrorist attacks in the Afghan capital and have been known to kidnap Western hostages and smuggle them across the border into Pakistan. Kurram tribal agency borders Nangarhar and Paktia provinces in Afghanistan. Both are riven by militancy, with the Islamic State group gaining a foothold in Nangarhar and Paktia seen as a Haqqani stronghold.

The Taliban are also believed to be holding American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weekes, both professors at the American University of Afghanistan, who were dragged from their vehicles in Kabul by gunmen in August last year.

US Special Operations forces conducted a secret raid authorised by then-president Barack Obama to rescue them, but the hostages were not there, the Pentagon said at the time. They most recently appeared in a hostage video released in June this year.

FREED COUPLE NOT YET ON US PLANE

A couple freed from the Taliban did not immediately board a US-bound plane from Pakistan over the Canadian husband’s concerns he might face American scrutiny for links to a former Guantanamo Bay captive, an official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the US military official told AFP that Joshua Boyle and his American wife Caitlan Coleman, along with their three children, were hesitating to get on the US military jet.

In 2009, Boyle was briefly married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Canadian-born Omar Khadr who spent a decade at Guantanamo.

The official said Boyle did not risk any repercussions by boarding an American plane. “It is not in our intention to do anything like that. We are prepared to bring them back home,” the official said.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 13-Oct-2017 here.