After being held hostage by a Taliban-linked group for five years, a Canadian man and his American wife have been rescued along with their three young children who were born in captivity.
The Pakistani government released a statement on Thursday morning confirming that Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman were rescued by the Haqqani network “through an intelligence-based operation by Pakistan troops and intelligence agencies” and after acting on a tip from the U.S.
“US intelligence agencies had been tracking them and shared their shifting across to Pakistan on October 11, 2017, through the Kurram Agency border,” Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated. “They were captured by terrorists from Afghanistan in 2012 and kept as hostages there.”
“We ask quickly, in our collective fourteenth year of prison, urge the governments on both sides to reach some agreement to allow us freedom.”
U.S. officials have also confirmed the release of the pair who were kidnapped in Ghazni province, southwest of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, nearly five years after they were taken during a hiking trip in the conflict-hit country. Coleman was five months pregnant at the time of their abduction.
“Today they are free,” President Donald Trump said in a statement released by the White House on Thursday. “This is a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan … 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.”
Neither Boyle nor Coleman, now both in their 30s, have spoken publicly since their release, and their current location is unclear. Boyle’s father Patrick told The Toronto Star that he was “doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison.”
Just last week, ahead of the anniversary of their abduction, Boyle’s parents shared a video of the couple and their children that they received earlier this year. “God willing,” Boyle said in the video, “this all wraps up soon and doesn’t inconvenience anyone any more than it already has.”
Last December, a “proof of life” video was released of the couple pleading with former President Barack Obama and incoming President Donald Trump to exchange Afghani prisoners for their release. “My children have seen their mother defiled,” Coleman said to the camera. “We ask quickly, in our collective fourteenth year of prison, urge the governments on both sides to reach some agreement to allow us freedom.”
The couple stated in previous videos that their captors would slaughter them if their demands were ignored.
Boyle met Coleman, who is from Pennsylvania, online and they got married in 2011. Both of their parents have told reporters the couple may not have realized the dangers associated with hiking through that particular region.
The successful rescue mission of Boyle and Coleman could serve to bolster the standing of Pakistani security forces
Boyle was previously married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Canadian man Omar Khadr, who was held in Guantanamo Bay after being shot and detained during a firefight in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old. He pleaded guilty to war crimes in exchange to return to Canada to serve out his sentence. Khadar recently received an apology from the Canadian government and a multi-million dollar settlement for the violation of his rights as he was a child when he was detained by U.S. forces.
The successful rescue mission of Boyle and Coleman could serve to bolster the standing of Pakistani security forces, who have been accused of collaborating with armed groups in Afghanistan, in the eyes of Canadian and other western policy makers. Pakistani officials were keen to note collaboration with U.S. intelligence agencies on the rescue operation in their statement.
“The success [of the operation] underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment towards fighting this menace [of terrorism] through cooperation between two forces against a common enemy,” the Pakistani military statement said.
Last January, another Canadian man, Colin Rutherford, was freed after being held by the Taliban for five years with help from the Qatar government.