Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle appeared with two of their children in a hostage video released by the Taliban in Dec. 2016.
The Pakistani military announced today that an American woman, her husband and three children have been freed from “from terrorist custody through an intelligence based operation by Pakistan troops and intelligence agencies.”
The couple, Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle, had been held hostage by the Taliban since 2012. All three of their children were born in captivity. Coleman is an American citizen, while Boyle is a Canadian.
The couple appeared in Taliban hostage videos after their abduction, including a clip released in Dec. 2016. At the time, they pleaded with their home governments to negotiate their release. While reading a prepared statement, Coleman said that her children had “seen their mother defiled.” She told President Obama that his “legacy” upon leaving office was probably most important to him and warned him not to become the “next Jimmy Carter,” who had to deal with the Iranian hostage crisis during his last year in office. “So, give the offenders something so they and you can save face and we leave the region permanently,” Coleman said. She also addressed then President-elect Tump, saying he must make concessions in order to win their freedom. Coleman specifically mentioned “Afghans who are prisoners in Kabul” that her captors “care about” and did not want to see harmed.
Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement claims that the country’s officials cooperated with their American counterparts to secure the family’s release. Pakistan also claims that the family was held in Afghanistan and was only recently “shifted” across the border.
“US intelligence agencies had been tracking them and shared their shifting across to Pakistan on 11 Oct 2017 through Kurram Agency border,” the ISPR statement reads. “The operation by Pakistani forces, based on actionable intelligence from US authorities was successful; all hostages were recovered safe and sound and are being repatriated to the country of their origin.”
“The success underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment towards fighting this menace through cooperation between two forces against a common enemy,” the Pakistani statement concludes.
The move was undoubtedly intended to signal Pakistan’s willingness to provide more assistance to the US. The announcement was timed to coincide with an American delegation’s meeting today with General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
In a speech delivered in August, President Trump took a hard line with the Pakistani government, citing its sponsorship of jihadist groups. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” Trump said.
Pakistan’s willingness to help free the couple and their children was a gesture, albeit a minor one, that parts of its military and intelligence establishment want to assuage the Trump administration.
Shortly after Pakistan’s announcement today, the White House released a statement from President Trump praising the country’s cooperation. “Yesterday, the United States government, working in conjunction with the Government of Pakistan, secured the release of the Boyle-Coleman family from captivity in Pakistan,” Trump said.
“Today they are free. This is a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan,” the president continued. “The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region. 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.”
However, hostage-taking operations are just one part of the overall picture. Pakistan’s long-term alliance with jihadist groups poses many problems.
The couple was held by the Haqqani Network, a key party within the Taliban coalition, which is seeking to topple the Afghan government. Pakistan has long sheltered and aided the Haqqani Network, as well as other senior Taliban leaders. The Taliban is the chief threat to the Afghan government.
The White House’s statement today described the Haqqani Network as “a terrorist organization with ties to the Taliban,” but that doesn’t adequately reflect the extent of the relationship.
The Taliban has repeatedly denied that there is a separate entity known as the Haqqani Network. Indeed, Sirajuddin Haqqani is the Taliban’s deputy leader and one of the most powerful figures within the organization. The Haqqanis are also one of al Qaeda’s most important allies. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Taliban again affirms Haqqani Network is an integral part of group.]
It is not clear how the couple and their children were freed, or if the Pakistani government granted any concessions to the Haqqanis. In the past, jihadists have extracted significant ransoms in exchange for hostages. According to The New York Times, the Haqqanis mediated a hostage exchange between al Qaeda and the Afghan government in 2010. Al Qaeda received several million dollars in exchange for Abdul Khaliq Farahi, an Afghan diplomat who was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2008.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an accused deserter, was captured by the Taliban in 2009 and exchanged in 2014 for five of the group’s senior commanders held in Guantanamo.
The Taliban has threatened the Afghan government that “blood will be spilled” if other Haqqani figures are not released from custody. Still other hostages also remain in the Taliban’s custody.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.