An American woman along with her husband and three children held captive in Afghanistan since October 2012 were recovered yesterday by Pakistani forces, officials said Thursday.
President Donald Trump said the U.S. government secured the release of the family by working together with Pakistan, a development that both sides could signal a warming of relations between the two countries.
A Pakistani official confirmed to The Cipher Brief that Pakistani forces rescued the family when they crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory, thanks to an intelligence tip-off from the U.S.
“The captors crossed the border from Afghanistan and [the] U.S. shared the actionable intelligence,” a second Pakistani official said.
“Within hours of [getting the] information, the operation was conducted while the victims were being transported. All hostages safe,” the official added.
Caitlan Coleman, a native of Pennsylvania, and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, were taken hostage by the Haqqani militant group while hiking in Afghanistan.
Coleman was pregnant at the time of her capture, and later had two additional children while in captivity.
According to The Star, the family is still in Pakistan and plans are underway to fly them back to North America.
Trump issued a statement praising the partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan in helping secure the family’s release.
“This is 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. 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,” the statement read.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also put out a statement recognizing “the important role Pakistan needs to play to bring stability and ultimately peace to the region.”
The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been fraught with distrust. The Trump White House has echoed accusations made by the Obama and Bush administration accusing Pakistan of harboring and aiding terrorist groups, including the Haqqani network, a militant group operating in Afghanistan seen as a proxy for Pakistan.
The operation may be seen as possible further cooperation from Pakistan on the fight against terrorism, help the U.S. has long been seeking from the country, and long a point of contention between the two nations.
Cipher Brief expert Daniel Markey, academic director of the Global Policy Program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, believes increased cooperation between the two nations is a possibility.
“That’s conceivable”, he told the Cipher Brief in an interview. “It’s also quite conceivable that this is a kind of a little gift that the Pakistani state saw as maybe an opportunity to try to show that its on the right side with Washington and maybe try to relieve some of the pressure that seems to be mounting by leaders in the US government.”
“This may have been kind of a tactical move to try to relieve some of that pressure, or it may represent a more significant shift,” he added.
Whatever the reasoning for the cooperation behind the hostage release, Pakistani security officials believe it signals the mutual benefits of the U.S. and Pakistan working together.
“It highlights the significance of timely intelligence sharing that Pakistan has been emphasizing all along instead of finger pointing,” a Pakistani official told the Cipher Brief on Thursday.
“The U.S. has not been sharing actionable intelligence with us,” a second official griped. “This success is direct dividend of meaningfully working together.”
Both spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive operation.
U.S. military officials in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Kimberly Dozier (@KimDozier) is executive editor of The Cipher Brief, and Verdi Tzou is national security web editor.