Rescued, or released? According to NBC News, it’s the latter, but ABC News reports that a Pakistani military operation liberated a family of five from Taliban control. The case of Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle has its share of curiosities and quirks, including how they got captured in the first place:
An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children were rescued on Wednesday, five years to the day since the couple was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, ABC News has learned.
Caitlan Coleman, 31, and her husband Joshua Boyle, 34, were freed from Taliban captivity and then secured in an exchange between Pakistani military and U.S. commandos late Wednesday in a secret operation to bring them home after one of the longest — and strangest — American hostage ordeals in recent history, counterterrorism officials revealed.
The captor network was believed by intelligence and counterterrorism officials to have been part of the al-Qaeda-aligned Afghan Haqqani Network — which also held Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl prisoner for five years until May 2014 — but no one ever asked the families to pay ransom. The Haqqanis also have close ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.
The couple’s children have all been born since their capture in 2012, when Boyle and Coleman decided to go hiking in Afghanistan, a decision which ABC News describes as “inexplicable.” They have had sporadic contact with their families in videos taken by their abductors and in letters, communications which would normally precede demands for ransoms in other hostage situations. Instead, the Taliban wanted to trade them for a captured leader, Anas Haqqani, whom the Afghans had sentenced to death. His death sentence has since been commuted, but Afghan officials refuse to allow his release, even when the Obama administration tried to resolve the hostage situation in its last days.
The Pakistanis credit US intelligence for locating the Coleman-Boyle family, although they specifically claim all the operational credit:
The Pakistani statement said the family had been held in Afghanistan but that “U.S. intelligence agencies has been tracking them” and shared that they had crossed the border on Wednesday.
It added: “The operation by Pakistani forces, based on actionable intelligence from U.S. authorities, was successful; all hostages were recovered safe and sound.”
That also sounds more like rescue than negotiated release, but Pakistan might have good reason to play both sides of the war here … as they have done since its beginning. The Pakistanis have had a reluctance in the past to go after the Haqqani branch of the Taliban, and some suspect it’s because of their own ties to the Haqqanis. The issue became so acute that Defense Secretary James Mattis announced in July that the DoD would withhold $50 million in aid to Pakistan over its refusal to take action against the Haqqani network:
Secretary of Defense James Mattis has informed Congress that the US is withholding $50 million in funding from Pakistan because he was unable to certify that Islamabad “has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani Network,” a branch of the Afghan Taliban.
Such certification is necessary in order to enable Pakistan to receive reimbursement of “Coalition Support Funds” for 2016. The funds are used to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of military operations against terrorist groups during 2016.
There was about $50 million remaining in the funds, which will now be repurposed the Pentagon said.
“The funds could not be released to the Government of Pakistan at this time because the secretary could not certify that Pakistan has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani Network per the requirement in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA),” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump told CNN in a statement.
This rescue mission could have been a test by the DoD to see whether the Pakistanis wanted to seriously re-engage against the Haqqanis. Alternately, or perhaps even in parallel, the Pakistanis could have arranged the “rescue” to relieve the Haqqanis of their hostages while protecting the terrorists against an American commando force that might have otherwise been deployed, and regaining millions in foreign aid in the process. At the very least, it’s likely to be the outcome regardless of which scenario took place. Will Mattis look under the hood on this one?
At any rate, the North Americans are on their way home, which is good news on its own. Hopefully they will adjust well, and refrain from hiking trips in failed-state war zones in the future.
Update: Donald Trump issued a statement hailing Pakistan’s new willingness to enforce our vision of security in the region:
JUST IN: President Trump statement on release of Caitlan Coleman and family pic.twitter.com/1LPatbhhUO
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 12, 2017
That $50 million looks closer and closer to Islamabad, I’d bet. Mattis’ move certainly had its intended impact. It raises the question of why we didn’t pull on that choke collar earlier.