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US woman, Canadian man held hostage by Haqqani Network freed

US national Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian Joshua Boyle were kidnapped five years ago while travelling in Afghanistan and had three children while in captivity.

world Updated: Oct 12, 2017 22:09 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Haqqani Network,US intelligence,Caitlan Coleman
This still image from a 2013 militant video shows Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle. The American woman, her husband and their three young children were freed in October 2017 after five years of being held captive by the Haqqani Network. The two were abducted while traveling in Afghanistan and had three children in captivity. (AP)

The United States on Thursday announced it had secured the release of an American woman and her family held captive by the Haqqani Network since 2012 in Pakistan, and noted approvingly the cooperation it received from Islamabad, which has been on notice from the Trump administration.

“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, and I want to thank the Pakistani government,” President Donald Trump said. “They worked very hard on this and I believe they’re starting to respect the US again.”

He added, “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.”

Caitlan Coleman, an American, and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle were captured in 2012 and held hostage by the Haqqani Network, a terrorist organisation that has been called a “veritable arm” of the Pakistan‘s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Coleman and her husband had three children while in captivity.

The White House said their release was secured on Wednesday “in conjunction with the government of Pakistan”.

News of the release coincided with a visit to Islamabad by Lisa Curtis, the National Security Council’s senior director for South and Central Asia, along with a high-level US delegation for talks with the Foreign Office.

Pakistan has said the family was rescued by its “army and the ISI” based on “actionable intelligence from US authorities” which had been tracking them and “shared (intelligence about) their shifting across to Pakistan” on Wednesday through the Kurram tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

No other details were shared by the US or Pakistan.

Coleman and Boyle were taken hostage in October 2012 near Kabul. They were expecting their first child then. They had appeared in a video in 2012 asking the US to free them.

In another video, made public in 2016, Boyle said, “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, if the policies of the Afghan government are not overturned either by the Afghan government or by Canada, somehow.”

Their release, soon after the fifth anniversary of their capture, comes at a particularly low point in relations between the US and Pakistan over the latter’s continued prevarication on moving decisively against terrorist groups operating from its soil, the Haqqani Network being of particular concern for the Americans.

Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told lawmakers at a recent hearing: “It is clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups”. Admiral Mike Mullen, another chairman of joint chiefs, had called the Haqqani Network a “veritable arm” of the ISI.

While unveiling his Afghanistan-centric South Asia policy in August, Trump had said, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations.”

That had the effect of putting Pakistan, a non-NATO ally, on notice and there was speculation the US administration could target the ISI in its bid to work with Pakistan “one more time”, as stated by defence secretary James Mattis.

Coleman and Boyle set off in the summer of 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan. Coleman’s parents last heard from their son-in-law on October 8, 2012 from an internet cafe in what Boyle described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

Coleman’s parents, Jim and Lyn Coleman, told the online Circa News service in July 2016 that they received a letter from their daughter in November 2015, in which she wrote that she’d given birth to a second child in captivity. It’s unclear whether they knew she had had a third.

“I pray to hear from you again, to hear how everybody is doing,” the letter said.

In that interview, Jim Coleman issued a plea to top Taliban commanders to be “kind and merciful” and let the couple go.

“As a man, father and now grandfather, I am asking you to show mercy and release my daughter, her husband, and our beautiful grandchildren,” Jim Coleman said. “Please grant them an opportunity to continue their lives with us, and bring peace to their families.”

US had targeted the leaders of the Haqqani Network with drone strikes in the past. The group also operates like a criminal network. Unlike the Islamic State, it does not typically execute Western hostages, preferring to ransom them for cash.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Oct 12, 2017 18:45 IST