North Amer­i­can fam­ily held by Tal­iban freed in army ac­tion

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A North Amer­i­can fam­ily held hostage by the Afghan Tal­iban has been freed fol­low­ing an op­er­a­tion in Pak­istan, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary said.

The hostages are “safe and sound and are be­ing repa­tri­ated to the coun­try of their ori­gin”, the army said, after the res­cue in Kur­ram district, part of the semi-au­ton­o­mous tribal belt along the Afghan bor­der.

“Pak Army re­cov­ered 5 west­ern hostages in­clud­ing 1 Cana­dian, his US na­tional wife and their three chil­dren from ter­ror­ist cus­tody,” it said of the op­er­a­tion, which was launched after Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties re­ceived in­tel­li­gence from US of­fi­cials.

It did not name the fam­ily but Cana­dian Joshua Boyle and his Amer­i­can wife, Cait­lan Cole­man, were kid­napped by the Afghan Tal­iban dur­ing a back­pack­ing trip in Afghanistan 2012 and are be­lieved to have had at least two chil­dren while in cap­tiv­ity.

Pak­istan of­fi­cials pro­vided no de­tails about the op­er­a­tion.

“We wel­come me­dia re­ports that a fam­ily in­clud­ing US cit­i­zens has been re­leased from cap­tiv­ity,” a US em­bassy spokesman in Is­lam­abad said, with­out con­firm­ing the iden­tity of the re­leased hostages.

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

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

The last known footage of Mr Boyle and Ms Cole­man sur­faced in De­cem­ber last year when they ap­peared in a video, urg­ing their gov­ern­ments to se­cure their re­lease. They were pic­tured hold­ing their two young sons.

It was not clear when the video was shot but it was re­leased 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 has been known to kid­nap west­ern hostages and smug­gle them across the bor­der into Pak­istan.

The Kur­ram district bor­ders Afghanistan’s Nan­garhar and Pak­tia prov­inces. Both are riven by mil­i­tancy, with ISIL 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.

AP

Cait­lan Cole­man and Joshua Boyle, from a 2013 video image. The cou­ple had three chil­dren while in cap­tiv­ity

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