Held hostage in Afghanistan, Canadian-American family freed after 5 years in captivity
A Canadian-American family, held for five years by the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, was freed after a gun battle between their captors and the Pakistani military.
Joshua Boyle, who is Canadian, and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, were captured by the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network in 2012 and were held mostly underground somewhere in Afghanistan. During their captivity, Caitlan Coleman had two children. She was pregnant when captured.
They spoke briefly of their captivity to family members.
Boyle called his parents early Thursday morning to tell of their rescue. He also told his father that they've had a third baby in custody, a little girl who was born two months ago.
"Josh said he was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison," Patrick Boyle told the Star early Thursday, about his conversation with his son.
The young family is in Pakistan and plans were underway midday Thursday to fly them home.
Boyle told his parents that he was in the trunk of the kidnappers' car with his wife and children when Pakistani forces rescued them. He said his kidnappers were killed in a shoot out that left him with minor shrapnel wounds. The last words Boyle said he heard from the kidnappers were, "kill the hostages."
Other media reports have quoted Pakistani and American officials saying the captors fled on foot.
They are reportedly traumatized by both the violence of the Thursday morning rescue and their long captivity, but healthy and recovering.
The U.S. was prepared to transport the family home on a military flight. Boyle's parents said he did not want to go to the American air base in Bagram, preferring instead to go to the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad and get on a flight with his family to Canada.
"We had arrangements to transport them back to the United States, or to Canada, anywhere they wanted to go," White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said in a news conference Thursday. "They've been essentially living in a hole for five years," he said, adding that the family is receiving medical and psychological treatment.
Boyle, 34, and Coleman, 31, were kidnapped by the Haqqani network in October 2012. Coleman was five-months pregnant at the time and the couple was backpacking through Central Asia.
Their families did not know they had crossed into Afghanistan.
Coleman gave birth to her first son in custody, followed by a second boy a few years later.
In a letter to his parents from captivity, Boyle described delivering the child in secret, by flashlight.
"Ta-da!" he wrote. "The astonished captors were good and brought all our postpartum needs, so he is now fat and healthy, praise God."
A "proof-of-life" video showed the children alive for the first time last December.
U.S. intelligence agencies had been tracking the family as they crossed into Pakistan. The Pakistani military mounted a rescue operation based on "actionable intelligence" from the U.S.
Pakistan tolerates the Haqqani Network because, like their allies the Taliban, they are fighting the U.S. and pro-Western Afghan government. But the Haqqanis are more than terrorists. They are a criminal organization that kidnaps people for ransom, is engaged in extortion, and murders for hire. They are a loosely organized family group that regularly kidnaps Westerners.
Their most famous captive was Bowe Bergdahl, the deserter who was exchanged for five Taliban commanders. Bergdahl will reportedly plead guilty at a hearing later this month to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The Obama administration refused to say whether it also paid a ransom for Bergdahl, although the Haqqanis routinely demand one.
There is another American being held by the Haqqani Network whose name has not been released. His fate after the rescue is uncertain.