Fam­ily freed in Pak­istan af­ter 5 years in cap­tiv­ity

Res­cue raises hopes for a warm­ing between Wash­ing­ton, Islamabad


islamabad, pak­istan — The res­cue of an Amer­i­can wo­man, her Cana­dian hus­band and their three chil­dren who were held by a fac­tion of Tal­iban-linked mil­i­tants for more than five years has raised hopes of a pos­si­ble warm­ing in the long-fraught re­la­tion­ship between the United States and Pak­istan.

For Amer­i­can Cait­lan Cole­man and her hus­band, Joshua Boyle, the re­lease marks the end of a wrench­ing saga dur­ing which Cole­man gave birth to two boys and a girl and pleaded for their re­lease in videos posted by their cap­tors on the In­ter­net.

“They have been es­sen­tially liv­ing in a hole the last five years, and that’s the kind of peo­ple we are deal­ing with,” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told re­porters.

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary said that the cou­ple and their three chil­dren were found “through an in­tel­li­gence-based op­er­a­tion” Wed­nes­day in co­or­di­na­tion with U.S. agen­cies track­ing the hostages along the border of Pak­istan and Afghanistan.

The Pak­istani govern­ment of­fered scant de­tails of the res­cue ef­fort that freed the fam­ily, and there were con­flict­ing re­ports Thurs­day about whether the cap­tives were se­cured as a re­sult of a han­dover or a shootout.

Pres­i­dent Trump in a state­ment praised the op­er­a­tion as a hope­ful sign that Pak­istan “is hon­or­ing

Amer­ica’s wishes for it to do more to pro­vide se­cu­rity in the re­gion.”

Only about a month ago, Trump slammed the Pak­istani govern­ment for ac­cept­ing “bil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars” in Amer­i­can aid while “hous­ing the very ter­ror­ists we are fight­ing.” In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the mis­sion, the pres­i­dent sug­gested that his tough words had prompted a change in Pak­istani be­hav­ior.

“They worked very hard on this, and I be­lieve they’re start­ing to re­spect the United States again,” Trump said in brief re­marks. “It’s very im­por­tant.”

But cur­rent and for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials said it is un­clear whether the Pak­istani ac­tion rep­re­sents a sin­gle event or a more sub­stan­tive change in pol­icy. U.S. of­fi­cials have long com­plained that Pak­istan’s in­abil­ity or un­will­ing­ness to elim­i­nate ex­trem­ist havens along its border with Afghanistan has badly hin­dered U.S. ef­forts to de­feat the Tal­iban and end Amer­ica’s long­est war.

The Pak­ista­nis, mean­while, have ac­cused the United States of hypocrisy and were in­fu­ri­ated by Trump’s harsh crit­i­cism of their coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts. Last week, Pak­istan’s for­eign min­is­ter met with Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and let loose with his frus­tra­tions at a lun­cheon with Amer­i­can re­porters.

“Ask them what they have done in Afghanistan. What have they achieved?” Khawaja Muham­mad Asif, the for­eign min­is­ter, said of the Amer­i­cans. “We are whole­heart­edly, sin­gle-mind­edly tar­get­ing th­ese ter­ror­ists.”

Nadeem Kiani, a spokesman for Pak­istan’s em­bassy in Ottawa, said that Boyle, Cole­man and their chil­dren were taken over the border from Afghanistan to Pak­istan in the tribal area of Kur­ram on Wed­nes­day by their ab­duc­tors. U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, who had been track­ing their move­ments, pro­vided in­for­ma­tion to Pak­istan’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, which planned the op­er­a­tion that se­cured the fam­ily’s re­lease.

“They are safe and they are be­ing repa­tri­ated to their coun­try of ori­gin, Kiani said.

Even af­ter the fam­ily’s re­lease, how­ever, there was still drama and con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the res­cue and the fam­ily’s next steps. Boyle’s par­ents spoke with their son by phone and were hope­ful that he and his fam­ily would be on a plane in a mat­ter of hours.

“First time in five years we got to hear his voice,” Boyle’s mother, Linda, said in an in­ter­view with the Toronto Star. “He told us how much his chil­dren were look­ing for­ward to meet­ing their grand­par­ents.”

At the Cole­man home in Ste­wart­stown, Pa., a sign on the door read, in part: “We know there is much in­ter­est in the joy­ful news that they’ve fi­nally been re­leased, and are over­whelmed with grat­i­tude and emo­tion. At this time, as we fo­cus on their well­be­ing and make plans for our fam­ily’s fu­ture, we re­spect­fully ask for some pri­vacy.”

Re­ports later Thurs­day sug­gested that Boyle for un­ex­plained rea­sons had re­fused to let his fam­ily board an air­craft that would fly them to the United States. His fa­ther told the Star that pre­vi­ous re­ports in­di­cat­ing that the fam­ily was en route to the United States “were def­i­nitely pre­ma­ture.”

Boyle was pre­vi­ously mar­ried to the sis­ter of Omar Khadr, once the youngest de­tainee at the U.S. mil­i­tary de­ten­tion cen­ter at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba. Khadr pleaded guilty to mur­der, among other charges, at a mil­i­tary com­mis­sion be­fore be­ing re­turned to Canada in 2012 to serve out his sen­tence. He was re­leased in 2015.

Cole­man and Boyle were ab­ducted in Oc­to­ber 2012 while trav­el­ing in Afghanistan and were held in Pak­istan by the Haqqani net­work, a mil­i­tant fac­tion with ties to the Tal­iban.

Cole­man was preg­nant when she was cap­tured, and the cou­ple has three chil­dren, all of whom were born while their par­ents were be­ing held cap­tive. The re­lease came just af­ter the fifth an­niver­sary of the cou­ple’s disap- pear­ance while trav­el­ing in War­dak prov­ince, a vi­o­lent and moun­tain­ous re­gion near the Afghan cap­i­tal, Kabul.

In a video re­leased late last year, the cou­ple said they feared that their fam­ily could be ex­e­cuted in re­tal­i­a­tion for Western at­tacks and pres­sure on mil­i­tants. Cole­man clutched at a head­scarf. Boyle had a long, untrimmed beard.

“We have waited since 2012 for some­body to un­der­stand our problems, the Kafkaesque night­mare in which we find our­selves,” Cole­man said in the video. “. . . My chil­dren have seen their mother de­filed.”

Boyle said in an ear­lier video: “Our cap­tors are ter­ri­fied at the thought of their own mor­tal­ity ap­proach­ing and are say­ing that they will take reprisals on our own fam­ily. They will ex­e­cute us, women and chil­dren in­cluded.”

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of Wed­nes­day’s ap­par­ent res­cue by Pak­istani forces, there was, for the first time in years, some cause for op­ti­mism for im­proved re­la­tions between Wash­ing­ton and Islamabad.

“This pro­vides a tem­plate to move this re­la­tion­ship for­ward, even if in­cre­men­tally, in a cleareyed, re­al­is­tic and pos­i­tive man­ner,” said Daniel Feld­man, who served as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Afghanistan and Pak­istan. “We must find other such dis­crete ar­eas of aligned in­ter­est.”

But ques­tions re­mained Thurs­day about the op­er­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, it wasn’t clear whether the cap­tors hold­ing Boyle and Cole­man were part of the Haqqani net­work, a Tal­iban fac­tion that has largely been pro­tected by the Pak­istan govern­ment, or a splin­ter group that does not en­joy such spe­cial sta­tus.

U.S. of­fi­cials in re­cent months had sus­pected that Boyle, Cole­man and their chil­dren were be­ing held in­side Afghanistan, though there was never enough in­for­ma­tion to lo­cate them in “real time,” said a for­mer U.S. of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss sen­si­tive in­tel­li­gence.

The cou­ple and their chil­dren were be­ing spir­ited across the border into Pak­istan when U.S. of­fi­cials ap­pear to have learned about their where­abouts and passed on the in­tel­li­gence to Pak­istani of­fi­cials, who moved quickly to act.

“If both sides are high­light­ing this as a demon­stra­tion of U.S.-Pak­istani co­op­er­a­tion, that sug­gests that there may be a will on both sides to work to­gether,” said Lau­rel Miller, also a spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Afghanistan and Pak­istan un­til ear­lier this year when the unit she led in the State Depart­ment was closed.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cur­rent strat­egy in Afghanistan is built around us­ing more air power and ad­vis­ers to bol­ster the Afghan mil­i­tary and pun­ish the Tal­iban. The end goal is to push the Tal­iban and af­fil­i­ated groups, such as the Haqqani net­work, into peace talks with the hope of reach­ing a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment.

Pak­istan’s co­op­er­a­tion has long been con­sid­ered crit­i­cal to any hope of a durable peace deal in Afghanistan. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had ap­peared to be mak­ing progress in talks with the Tal­iban, but those ef­forts came to an abrupt halt af­ter the U.S. mil­i­tary killed Tal­iban leader Akhtar Mo­ham­mad Man­sour in a drone strike in May 2016.

Last week, Pak­istan’s for­eign min­is­ter said that the death of Man­sour had cre­ated a “trust deficit” with the Tal­iban that would make fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions dif­fi­cult.

“Our in­flu­ence over the years [with the Tal­iban] has di­min­ished,” Asif said.

Tiller­son is ex­pected to visit Pak­istan later this month.


Cait­lan Cole­man and Joshua Boyle ap­pear with two of their three chil­dren in an im­age from a video re­leased last year by the Tal­iban.

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