A kidnapped US-Canadian couple and their three children born in captivity have been freed in Pakistan, nearly five years after the couple was abducted in neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistani and US officials said on Thursday.
American Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, were kidnapped while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2012 by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network, which the United States has long accused Pakistan of failing to fight.
US President Donald Trump, who has been highly critical of Islamabad, praised Pakistan’s cooperation with the US government over the freeing of the hostages, saying it represented “a positive moment” for US-Pakistan relations.
“The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honouring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” Trump said in a statement.
Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, drove home the dire conditions that the family had been subjected to during its long captivity.
“They’ve been essentially living in a hole for five years,” Kelly said. “That’s the kind of people we’re dealing with over there.”
It was unclear how precisely the Pakistani military secured the family’s release, which came after the United States shared intelligence about the hostages’ location. It was also unclear when the family would return home.
Two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the US military had been ready to fly the family out of the country but said Boyle, who is Canadian, had refused to board the aircraft.
Boyle had once been married to the sister of an inmate at the US military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. The marriage ended and the inmate was later released to Canada.
As of Thursday evening, there was no indication the family had left Pakistan. Boyle’s parents said he told them by phone he would see them in a couple of days.
“So we’re waiting for that,” his mother, Linda Boyle, said in a video posted on the Toronto Star newspaper’s website.
US officials expressed hope that the hostages’ freedom could represent a turning point in relations between Pakistan and the United States, uneasy allies in fighting Taliban and other Islamist extremists in the region.
In recent days, senior US officials have been more pointed about Islamabad’s alleged ties to militant groups, who are battling against US and US-backed forces in a stalemated 16-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan. Some US officials say Pakistani safe havens have helped prolong the conflict.
Pakistan fiercely denies such ties, and it touted the operation as proof of the strength of the alliance.
“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,” a Pakistani army statement said.