WASHINGTON • An American-Canadian family who spent years in Taleban captivity were released following a Pakistani operation, officials said. But they refused to immediately board a jet bound for the United States over concerns about the husband's past links to a former Guantanamo Bay inmate.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday hailed the couple's freedom after they had been held for five years in the lawless Afghan-Pakistan border region by the notorious 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 armed Islamist groups.
"The Pakistani government's cooperation is a sign that it is honouring America's wish that it do more to provide security in the region," Mr 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.
Ms Caitlan Coleman and Mr Joshua Boyle were kidnapped during a backpacking trip in Afghanistan in 2012, and had three children while in captivity.
A US military official said American 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 home if needed. Another military official told AFP the couple were hesitating to board a US military jet in Pakistan over the Canadian husband's concerns he could face American scrutiny for links to a former Guantanamo Bay captive.
In 2009, Mr Boyle was briefly married to Ms Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Canadian-born Omar Khadr who spent a decade at Guantanamo.
In 2009, Mr Boyle was briefly married to Ms Zaynab Khadr, the sister of Canadian-born Omar Khadr who spent a decade at Guantanamo. But a US military official said Mr Boyle did not risk any US repercussions.
But the second US official said Mr 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."
Mr Trump identified the captors as the Haqqani group, whose head, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is also the Afghan Taleban's deputy leader. This faction has long been suspected of having links with Pakistan's shadowy military establishment.
Pakistan has been under increased pressure from Washington to crack down on alleged militant sanctuaries inside its borders after Mr Trump in a televised address in August accused Islamabad of sheltering "agents of chaos".
The Haqqani network has been accused of masterminding several high-profile terrorist attacks in the Afghan capital, including a massive truck bomb on May 31 that killed some 150 people. It has also been known to kidnap Western hostages and smuggle them across the Afghan border into Pakistan.
The Pakistani military said the hostages had been "recovered... from terrorist custody through an intelligence-based operation by Pakistani troops". They were found in Kurram district, part of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt, where militants operated with impunity until the army intensified an operation there in 2014.
Mr Boyle and Ms Coleman appeared in a hostage video in December last year with two of their children pleading for their release.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed relief at the release.