By Michelle Shephard
Joshua Boyle, 34, and Caitlan Coleman, 31, had three children in the captivity of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. Boyle told his parents Thursday he was injured in the gunfight that secured his family’s rescue.
Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman and their children are on their way home after five years held hostage. (Twitter)
SMITHS FALLS, ONT.—Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman and their children are finally free after five years held hostage in Afghanistan by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.
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.
In the video, Coleman appeals to the U.S. and Afghan government, calling their plight “Kafkaesque.”
The couple’s daughter was born this summer.
Pakistan’s government issued a press release Thursday confirming the rescue “through an intelligence-based operation by Pakistan troops and intelligence agencies.”
The statement said that U.S. agencies had been tracking the family and kidnappers as they crossed into the Kurram Agency, an area in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, on Wednesday. The rescue was based “on actionable intelligence from U.S. authorities,” the statement said.
“The success underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment towards fighting this menace through co-operation between two forces against a common enemy.”
The Haqqani network is a powerful Afghan group with a history of taking and holding Western hostages. Their highest profile captive was U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for nearly five years before being freed in a prisoner exchange in May 2014.
On Aug. 29, 2016, an Afghan court sentenced the son of the powerful Haqqani network’s founder to death. In a YouTube video released around that time, Boyle told the Afghan government that if it does not stop executing Taliban prisoners, his family would be killed. He appeared to be reading from a script.
Boyle’s parents made their own video this June, addressing the captors. “We’ve done the best an ordinary Canadian family can do. I’ve personally written to several of the most senior government officials in Afghanistan, those with great power over the execution of your brothers,” Patrick Boyle says. “We’ve done what you’ve asked of us, we’re now respectfully asking you to show mercy to our family members in return. Please.”
This May 4 was the first time since his capture that Boyle’s parents didn’t celebrate his birthday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed relief that the family had been released.
The parents of Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman in a June 4, 2014, file photo. From left, Patrick Boyle, Linda Boyle, Lyn Coleman and Jim Coleman. (AP Photo/Bill Gorman)
“Canada has been actively engaged with the governments of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan and we thank them for their efforts, which have resulted in the release of Joshua, Caitlan and their children,” Freeland said in a statement.
“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.”
The U.S. has long criticized Pakistan for failing to crack down on the Haqqani network.
The Pakistan press release appears to support what U.S. President Donald Trump alluded to in a speech Wednesday in Coleman’s home state of Pennsylvania. “Something happened today, where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news,” Trump said. “And one of my generals came in. They said, ‘You know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would’ve never done that.’ It was a great sign of respect. You’ll probably be hearing about it over the next few days. But this is a country that did not respect us. This is a country that respects us now. The world is starting to respect us again, believe me.”
In a Thursday morning statement, the White House called the rescue, “a positive moment in our country’s relationship with Pakistan.”
Another Canadian, Colin Rutherford, was released after five years in Taliban custody in January 2016.
Like many Western nations, including the U.S., Canada has an official policy of not paying ransom to secure Canadian captives’ release. But negotiations always occur.
Last year, an eight-part Star series investigated what happens when a Canadian is taken hostage abroad. The stories of victims and their families, along with interviews with nearly 50 witnesses, government, military, intelligence officials and private security consultants, revealed a system ripe for overhaul.
U.S. President Donald Trump commented on the release of Joshua Boyle, Caitlan Coleman and their three children. The five are finally free after five years of being held hostage in Afghanistan by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. (courtesy: The White House/YouTube)