US Military Official: Pennsylvania woman, husband, children not returning to US
An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children have been released after years of being held captive by a group that has ties to the Taliban, but will not be returning to the United States, a U.S. military official tells CBS News.
U.S. officials said Pakistan secured the release of Caitlan Coleman of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, who were abducted five years ago while traveling in Afghanistan and then were held by the Haqqani network.
Coleman was pregnant when she was captured. The couple had three children while in captivity, and all have been freed, U.S. officials said. The Toronto Star reports that the couple has two boys and a girl, who was born two months ago.
The Pakistani military said the family was "being repatriated to the country of their origin."
But as of Thursday midday, the family's precise whereabouts were unclear, and it was not immediately known when they would return to North America. The family was not in U.S. custody, though they were together in a safe, undisclosed location in Pakistan, according to a U.S. national security official, who wasn't authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials had planned on moving the family out of Pakistan on a U.S. transport plane, but at the last minute Boyle would not get on, the official said.
Another U.S. official said Boyle was nervous about being in "custody" given his background.
The official told CBS News Boyle is in no danger of being held in US custody against his will and that it would be difficult to say what is behind Boyle's decision because that length of time in captivity could be impacting his judgement.
The official also told CBS News the family has decided to stay together as a unit and that the US military stands ready to evacuate the family.
Boyle spoke to his parents and told them that he was in the trunk of the kidnappers' car with his wife and children, when Pakistani forces rescued them.
The Toronto Star reported there was a shootout and Boyle said the last words he heard from the kidnappers were, "kill the hostages."
The paper reports all five kidnappers were then shot dead and Boyle was injured with shrapnel.
His mother, Linda Boyle, says they spoke to him for the first time in five years. She calls it amazing and says he told them his children are looking forward to meeting their grandparents.
The High Commissioner for Pakistan to Canada says Pakistani commandos carried out a raid and there was a shootout before they safely rescued the hostages from a van.
Tariq Azim Khan said Thursday that Boyle and his family were then flown by helicopter to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan where they remain.
He says Boyle and his family are fit to travel and it's undecided whether they will fly to Canada or to the U.S. from there.
He says they don't know how many of the suspects were killed. He says one or two escaped and there is a search for the suspects.
He says he exchanged emails with the father of Boyle to tell them they had been rescued.
Statement by Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry issued this statement on the rescue of Ms. Caitlin Coleman and her family:
I welcome successful rescue of Ms. Caitlan Coleman, a US citizen and her family from terrorists’ captivity.
I also wish to extend warm felicitations to Ms. Coleman’s family and her loved ones in the United States and Canada. No one should have to experience the pain and anguish that Ms. Coleman and her family had been put through in the past years. I am delighted that their ordeal is finally over.
Ms. Coleman and her family were captured by terrorists from Afghanistan in 2012 and kept as hostages there.
Pakistan’s security forces acted within hours on the basis of actionable intelligence on hostages' shifting across to Pakistan. Their action constitutes yet another successful effort by Pakistan’s security services against the terrorists.
Ms. Coleman‘s successful rescue operation is a testimony of results that can be achieved through cooperation and team work.
Cooperation is the most effective way to defeat terrorism.
Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a late senior al-Qaida financier. Her father, Ahmed Said Khadr, and the family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.
The Canadian-born Omar Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound. He was taken to Guantanamo and ultimately charged with war crimes by a military commission. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included murder and was sentenced to eight years plus the time he had already spent in custody.
Several years ago, Zaynab Khadr and her mother also upset many Canadians by expressing pro-al-Qaida views.
Officials had discounted any link between that background and Boyle's capture, with one official describing it in 2014 as a "horrible coincidence."
The couple has told U.S. officials they wanted to fly commercially to Canada, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
The release came together rapidly Wednesday. It happened nearly five years to the day after Coleman and Boyle lost touch with their families while traveling in a mountainous region near the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The couple set off in the summer 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan. Coleman's parents last heard from their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, from an internet cafe in what Boyle described as an "unsafe" part of Afghanistan.
The only trace of the couple since has been in the form of videos released by their captors and family letters.
Coleman's parents, Jim and Lyn Coleman, told the online Circa News service in July 2016 that they received a letter from their daughter in November 2015, in which she wrote that she'd given birth to a second child in captivity. It's unclear whether they knew she'd had a third.
"I pray to hear from you again, to hear how everybody is doing," the letter read.
In that interview, Jim Coleman issued a plea to top Taliban commanders to be "kind and merciful" and let the couple go.
Boyle's parents, Patrick and Linda Boyle, said last year that a Taliban-released video had given them their first glimpse of their grandchildren.
"It is an indescribable emotional sense one has watching a grandson making faces at the camera, while hearing our son's leg chains clanging up and down on the floor as he tries to settle his son," the Boyles said in a written statement. "It is unbelievable that they have had to shield their sons from their horrible reality for four years."
The parents say their son told them in a letter that he and his wife have tried to protect the children by pretending their signs of captivity were part of a game being played with guards.
"It is simply heartbreaking to watch both boys so keenly observing their new surroundings in a makeshift film studio, while listening to their mother describe how they were made to watch her being defiled," the Boyles said.
John Kelly, Trump's chief of staff, tells reporters at the White House that the family have been essentially "living in a hole" for five years. He added, "I mean that's the kind of people we're dealing with over there."
Kelly credited Pakistan with playing a key role in their rescue. He also says the family is "being cared for now as we speak."
U.S. officials call the Haqqani group a terrorist organization and have targeted its leaders with drone strikes. But the group also operates like a criminal network. Unlike the Islamic State group, it does not typically execute Western hostages, preferring to ransom them for cash.
The U.S. has long criticized Pakistan for failing to aggressively go after the Haqqanis. In recent remarks on his Afghanistan policy, Trump noted billions paid to Pakistan "at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately."
In his statement Thursday, Trump described the release as "a positive moment for our country's relationship with Pakistan."
"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," he said. "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."
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said her country was "greatly relieved" the family was safe, and she thanked the U.S., Afghan and Pakistani governments for their efforts.
"Joshua, Caitlan, their children and the Boyle and Coleman families have endured a horrible ordeal over the past five years. We stand ready to support them as they begin their healing journey," Freeland said.
Baldor reported from Tampa, Florida, and Ahmed from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Rob Gillies in Toronto, and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.