Canadian-American family freed after five years as captives in Afghanistan

Still image taken 19 Dec. 2016 shows American Caitlan Coleman, left, speaking next to her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their two sons

Still image taken 19 Dec. 2016 shows American Caitlan Coleman, left, speaking next to her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their two sons

US officials have confirmed the release of an American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children, bringing an end to the couple’s nearly five years in captivity at the hands of a militant group aligned with the Taliban.

Troops in Pakistan, working in conjuction with the United States government, secured the release of American Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, Donald Trump said in a statement on Thursday.

“Ms Coleman gave birth to the couple’s three children while they were in captivity,” the US president added. “Today they are free.”

The couple was kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012 and believed to be held by the Haqqani network, a network deemed a terrorist organisation by the US.

Boyle’s family said they had received a call from their son early Thursday morning to share the news of their release. “Josh said he was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison,” Patrick Boyle told the Toronto Star. His son also told him that he and Coleman had had a third baby – a little girl – who was born two months ago.

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In a statement, the Pakistan military said that US intelligence officials had been tracking the family and had alerted Pakistan when the couple was moved into the tribal areas that border Afghanistan. “All hostages were recovered safe and sound and are being repatriated to the country of their origin,” it added.

Pakistan officials did not say when the rescue had taken place or where the family is now. Officials also declined to say when they would return to North America.

The rescue comes some 10 months after the couple’s captors released a video, showing Boyle,34, Coleman,31, and two of their children – both of whom were born in captivity – pleading with their governments to negotiate with their captors.

In the video, Coleman described their ordeal as “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves”.

Their capture came after a backpacking trip that began in Russia and took them through Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before arriving in northern Afghanistan. Coleman, who is from Pennsylvania, was pregnant with their first child.

Coleman’s parents said they had last heard from their son-in-law in 2012, who contacted them from an internet cafe in what he described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

In 2013, the couple appeared in two videos pleading with the US government to free them from the Taliban. Coleman’s parents later told reporters that they had received a letter in which their daughter said she had given birth to a second child in captivity.

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In the most recent video, the couple refer to their two sons as their “surviving children” without explanation, indicating Coleman potentially miscarried.A letter sent to Boyle’s parents and shared with the Toronto Star last year detailed the lengths the couple went to deliver their second son; hiding the pregnancy from captors until Boyle delivered the child in the darkness, guided only by a flashlight clenched between his teeth.

“The astonished captors were good and brought all our post-partum needs, so he is now fat and healthy, praise God,” Boyle wrote in the letter. “We are trying to keep spirits high for the children and play Beautiful Life,” he added, believed to be a reference to the Italian film in which a father shields his son from the realities of a Nazi concentration camp by pretending they are in a game.

On Thursday, Trump heralded the operation as a “positive moment” for the relationship between US and 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 in his statement. “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.”

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