U.S. woman and her family freed after being held 5 years by Taliban-linked group

U.S. and Pakistani officials said Thursday that they had rescued an American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children from captivity by a militant network linked to the Taliban.

Pakistani officials said their army and intelligence agencies conducted the rescue operation based on intelligence provided by American authorities, delivering a boost to flagging relations between the United States and Pakistan.

Officials identified the rescued couple as Caitlan Coleman of Stewartstown, Pa., and Joshua Boyle of Canada. They disappeared five years ago while traveling in a mountainous area near Kabul, Afghanistan, during a backpacking trip through Central Asia.

Coleman was pregnant at the time. The couple had three children while in captivity.

“All hostages were recovered safe and sound and are being repatriated to their country of origin,” the Pakistani army said in a statement.

President Trump, who has sharply criticized Pakistan for failing to crack down on militants, offered praise for the country’s role.

“They worked hard on this and I believe they’re starting to respect the United States again,” Trump said at a White House event on healthcare, adding, “We hope to see this cooperation and teamwork” again in securing other hostages and counter-terrorism operations.

U.S. intelligence agencies had been tracking the whereabouts of the hostages and informed Pakistan that they had been brought into the country from Afghanistan via a border crossing in the Kurram tribal area on Wednesday, Pakistani officials said.

The rescue took place Wednesday night. According to Pakistani security sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the operation, rescuers located a vehicle carrying the family southwest of the town of Kohat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The security forces exchanged gunfire with the captors, capturing one while two others escaped, officials said.

Residents in Kohat said drones had been hovering over the town for the last 10 days, a possible sign of the involvement of U.S. intelligence agencies.

The operation “underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment” to fighting terrorism, the Pakistani army statement said.

The Haqqani network is a militant group aligned with the Taliban that has battled the U.S. military in Afghanistan for years and frequently targets Westerners. The group held U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl captive for five years before he was released in 2014 as part of a prisoner swap that saw five Taliban detainees released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Coleman, Boyle and their children appeared in hostage videos several times, most recently in December, when Coleman pleaded with President Obama and incoming President Trump to free them from “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves.”

The Canadian government said it had been “actively engaged” with the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan on the case and expressed relief that the family had been freed.

“Joshua, Caitlan, their children and the Boyle and Coleman families have endured a horrible ordeal over the past five years,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said. “We stand ready to support them as they begin their healing journey.”

Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India. Times staff writer Noah Bierman in Washington and special correspondent Aoun Sahi in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Follow @SBengali on Twitter


UPDATES:

9:50 a.m.: This article was updated with details of the rescue and a statement from President Trump.

7 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting.

This article was originally published at 5:35 a.m.

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