Five years after they were seized by an extremist network in the mountains of Afghanistan, an American woman, her Canadian husband and their children – all three born in captivity – are free after a dramatic rescue orchestrated by the US and Pakistani governments and have left Pakistan.
The US said Pakistan accomplished the release of Caitlan Coleman of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, who were abducted and held by the Haqqani network, which has ties to the Taliban.
The operation, which came after years of US pressure on Pakistan for assistance, unfolded quickly and ended with what some described as a dangerous raid, a shootout and a captor’s final, terrifying threat to “kill the hostage.”
Boyle suffered only a shrapnel wound, his family said.
US officials did not confirm the details.
“Today they are free,” President Donald Trump said in a statement, crediting the US-Pakistani partnership for securing the release.
Trump later praised Pakistan for its willingness to “do more to provide security in the region” and said the release suggests other “countries are starting to respect the United States of America once again.”
The couple was kidnapped in October of 2012 while on a backpacking trip that took them to Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan.
Coleman was several months pregnant at the time, “naive,” but also “adventuresome” with a humanitarian bent, her father James said in 2012.
The Pakistani military said the family had been freed in “an intelligence-based operation by Pakistan troops” after they’d crossed the border from Afghanistan.
Two Pakistani security officials said the family was flown out of Islamabad on Friday, without saying where they were headed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with official protocol.
Boyle and the High Commissioner for Pakistan to Canada described a scene in which gunshots rang out as Boyle, his wife and their children were intercepted by Pakistani forces while being transported in the boot of their captors’ car.
Boyle told his parents there was a shoot-out in which some of his captors were killed and that the last words he’d heard from the kidnappers were, “kill the hostage,” his father Patrick told reporters after speaking with his son.
The younger Boyle also told his father he’d been hit by shrapnel in the leg. Three intelligence officials said the confrontation happened near a road crossing in the Nawa Kili area of the district of Kohat in northwest Pakistan.
The high commissioner, Tariq Azim Khan, said: “We know there was a shootout and Pakistan commandos carried out an attack and rescued the hostages.”
A US military official said that a military hostage team had flown to Pakistan Wednesday, prepared to fly the family out. The team did a preliminary health assessment and had a transport plane ready to go. But sometime after daybreak on Thursday, as the family members were walking to the plane, Boyle said he did not want to board.
Boyle’s father said his son did not want to board the plane because it was headed to Bagram Air Base and the family wanted to return directly to North America. Another US official said Boyle was nervous about being in “custody” given his family ties.
He was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a senior al-Qaeda financier.
The US Justice Department said neither Boyle nor Coleman is wanted for any federal crime.
Originally published as US-Canadian family freed in Pakistan