Pakistan pressured by US to rescue family abducted by militants

WASHINGTON • A United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone was circling a remote valley in north-west Pakistan last month when it picked up an unusual sight: a young woman and children in a militant camp.

To intelligence analysts, she appeared to be an American that had been abducted five years earlier while backpacking in Afghanistan with her Canadian husband. The grainy images were a breakthrough.

Military planners mobilised members of the US Navy's Seal Team 6, an elite group of commandos, to mount a rescue, according to senior US officials. But the operation was called off amid concerns, and days later, the CIA watched in alarm as militants drove the family out of the camp and across Pakistan's lawless tribal lands.

The commandos of Seal Team 6 began rehearsing for a rescue mission. The raid was to take place not far from where the CIA had originally spotted the family, according to one military official.

But the risky operation was called off because some in the US government were not certain that the people spotted by the drones were members of the missing family. Others voiced worries about the difficult terrain and the moon - it was too bright for a night-time airborne raid.

Ambassador David Hale, the top US diplomat in Pakistan, turned to his host country, one of the officials said, and delivered an urgent message to the Pakistani government: Resolve this, or the US will.

The rescue ended an intensive effort by US intelligence officials to locate the couple - who had been taken hostage in October 2012 - and their children. When she and Mr Boyle were kidnapped, Ms Coleman was seven months pregnant; she gave birth four times in captivity.

The implication was clear.

If the Pakistanis did not act decisively, the US would set aside its unease and launch a raid deep inside the country to free the family.

It would be another humiliating episode for the Pakistani government, reminiscent of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, conducted by the same elite Navy Seal commandos, without the Pakistani government's knowledge.

And a failure to act would underscore US officials' belief that the Pakistani government gives safe haven to the Taleban-linked Haqqani network that had kidnapped the family. Pakistani officials said they acted within hours.

With assistance from US intelligence, they located the vehicle and rescued the family last week in a dramatic confrontation with the captors.

Inside the car were Ms Caitlan Coleman, 31, her Canadian husband, Mr Joshua Boyle, 34, and their three children.

The rescue ended an intensive effort by US intelligence officials to locate the couple - who had been taken hostage in October 2012 - and their children. When she and Mr Boyle were kidnapped, Ms Coleman was seven months pregnant; she gave birth four times in captivity.

The CIA declined to comment. Trump administration officials cast the rescue as a win for Pakistan without publicly acknowledging that Pakistani officials had to be pressured into conducting the operation.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Pakistan pressured by US to rescue family abducted by militants'. Print Edition | Subscribe