Afghanistan war

US-Canadian family is free after five years as hostages of Taliban-linked militants

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 10:56pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 8:42pm

An American woman, her ­Canadian husband and their three young children have been released after years of being held captive by a network with ties to the Taliban.

US officials said Pakistan ­secured the release of Caitlan Coleman of Stewartstown, ­Pennsylvania, and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, who were abducted five years ago in Afghanistan and held by the Haqqani network.

Coleman was pregnant when she was captured. The couple had three children while in captivity, and all had been freed, they said.

“The United States government, working in conjunction with the government of Pakistan, secured the release of the Boyle-Coleman family from captivity in Pakistan,” President Donald Trump said. “Today they are free.”

Pakistani officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the family left by plane from Islamabad on Friday. They did not say where the family was headed.

The US has long criticised ­Pakistan for failing to aggressively go after the Haqqanis, who have been behind many attacks on US and allied forces in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military said US intelligence agencies had been tracking the hostages and discovered they were moved to Pakistan on October 11 through tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“All hostages were recovered safe and sound and are being ­repatriated to the country of their origin,” the military said.

The release happened nearly five years to the day since Coleman and Boyle lost touch with their families while travelling in a mountainous region near the ­Afghan capital Kabul.

The couple set off in the summer 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, 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.

In 2013, the couple appeared in two videos asking the US government to free them from the Taliban.

Coleman’s parents said in July 2016 that they received a letter from their daughter in November 2015, in which she wrote that she had given birth to a second child in captivity.

US officials call the Haqqani group a terrorist organisation and have targeted its leaders with drone strikes.

But the group also operates like a criminal network.

Unlike Islamic State, it does not typically execute Western hostages, preferring to ransom them for cash.

Trump has called on Pakistan to do more to tackle militant ­organisations that use its territory as a home base.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” Trump said in a recent speech announcing his Afghanistan policy.

Trump in his latest statement described the release of the ­hostages as “a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan”.