An American-Canadian family that spent years in Taliban captivity was released following a Pakistani operation, officials said on Thursday, but refused to immediately board a US-bound jet over concerns about the husband’s past links to a former Guantanamo Bay inmate.
US President Donald Trump hailed the couple’s freedom after five years held in the lawless Afghan-Pakistan border region by the Haqqani network and he suggested the rescue was the result of his tougher diplomatic stance against Pakistan, which Washington has been pressuring over its support for some militant groups.
“The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America’s wish that it do more to provide security in the region,” Trump told reporters.
“They worked very hard on this and I believe they’re starting to respect the United States again,” he said, adding that “a lot” of other nations were also showing greater deference to the US.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis also praised the release as a positive step in often rocky US-Pakistan diplomatic ties.
“This is a very positive moment and the Pakistan army performed well. We will hopefully see it being a harbinger for the future,” he told reporters, without offering details about the nature of the operation.
Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle were kidnapped during a backpacking trip in Afghanistan in 2012, and had three children while in captivity.
A US military official said US forces were not involved in any rescue, but that a medical team had been able to meet the family and stood ready to fly them back home if needed.
Another military official said the couple was hesitating to board a US military jet in Pakistan over the Canadian husband’s concerns he could face scrutiny for his links to a former Guantanamo Bay captive.
In 2009, Boyle was briefly married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Canadian-born Omar Khadr, who spent a decade at Guantanamo Bay.
However, the official said Boyle did not risk any US repercussions.
“It is not in our intention to do anything like that. We are prepared to bring them back home,” the official said.
Trump identified the captors as the Haqqani group, whose head, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is also the Afghan Taliban’s deputy leader.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland added that Boyle was not being investigated by Ottawa.
“Let me be very clear and as we have been with the Boyle family,” she said in a televised statement from Mexico. “Joshua Boyle is not the subject of any investigation.”
The Haqqani network has long been suspected of having links with Pakistan’s shadowy military establishment.
In 2011, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, Admiral Mike Mullen, described the Haqqani as a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.
Pakistan has been under increased pressure from Washington to crack down on alleged militant sanctuaries inside its borders after Trump lambasted the nation in a televised address in August.
During the speech, Trump accused Islamabad of sheltering “agents of chaos” and suggested ties with Pakistan would be adjusted immediately, but offered few details.
Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are expected to visit Pakistan in the coming weeks on separate visits, according to US and Pakistani sources, to maintain pressure on a nation that was designated a major non-NATO ally by former US president George W. Bush.
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