Pakistan hostage story: Rescue, release or handover?
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Pakistan hostage story: Rescue, release or handover?

NBC reported that one US official called the release of American national Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their three children a “diplomatic handover”.

world Updated: Oct 13, 2017 21:38 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US-Pakistan relations,Inter-Services Intelligence,Haqqani Network
In this image from a video released by the Taliban in December 2016, Caitlan Coleman talks while her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle holds their two children. US officials said Pakistan secured the release of Coleman and her husband, who were abducted five years ago while travelling in Afghanistan and were held by the Haqqani Network. The couple had three children while in captivity, and all have been freed. (AP)

Details and circumstances of the return of American national Caitlan Coleman and her family from their captors remained sparse but the US has pushed back against accounts sourced to Pakistani officials that it was a “rescue” operation marked by a hostile confrontation with the abductors.

The operation was carried out by Pakistani intelligence operatives — reportedly from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which has long been a source of mounting frustration and annoyance in the US — with the army providing perimeter protection, unidentified Pakistani officials told CNN, which also cited them as saying a gunfight broke out with the captors and an unspecified number of them were killed.

Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their three children were intercepted while being moved from one location to another in Pakistan’s notoriously lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan by their captors, the Haqqani Network, which is deeply entrenched in the region and sheltered by its patrons, the Pakistani military and the ISI.

According to NBC News, the rescuers shot the tires of the captors’ vehicle to stop it. “We destroyed their tires. The hostages remained inside the vehicle. The driver, and an accomplice, managed to escape to a nearby refugee camp. There is a search operation underway for them right now,” Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, the chief military spokesman, told NBC.

US officials pushed back but ever so gently, grateful for the help and cooperation they had received. “I cannot confirm that,” state department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters when asked to confirm reports that “Pakistani officials say that the family was rescued”.

“I can say that the Pakistani military, acting on information that we provided, were able to secure the release of this family,” she said, using a variation of the formulation — “secured the release” — used by President Donald Trump in a statement issued by the White House. Trump repeated the remarks at an event later.

NBC reported that one US official called the release of the hostages a “diplomatic handover”.

Put on notice by Trump, who has said the US will not be “silent” any more about Pakistan providing safe havens to terrorists, Islamabad is desperately seeking to salvage its reputation and fortunes with an erstwhile benefactor and ally that has run out of patience.

The US and Pakistan on Thursday announced the return of Coleman, her husband and their three children, five years after the couple were abducted while backpacking through Afghanistan. All the children were born in captivity. They had been held by the Haqqani Network, part of the Afghan Taliban that the US believes works closely with the ISI — a top American military official had once described the group as a “veritable arm” of the ISI, a belief that is held widely by others.

The Pakistani military said the rescue operation was carried out by the ISI with the army’s support on the basis of actionable intelligence provided by the US, which had been tracking the victims. The US only said it “secured the release” of the family working with the Pakistan government.

A Pentagon official told CNN that after passing on the information to Pakistan, the US military was considering launching a unilateral rescue operation — something akin to the 2011 mission that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad — when they heard from Pakistan that the family was safe and sound.

“That was a surprise to us,” the official was quoted as saying.

No Pakistani was told of the bin Laden raid because Americans couldn’t trust them, and were confident the information would be leaked, as it had been once before, when US cruise missiles hit an al-Qaeda camp in Khost, Afghanistan, in 1998 during a strike aimed at bin Laden. Forewarned, he wasn’t there.

First Published: Oct 13, 2017 21:26 IST