Oct 12, 2017, 8:16 AM ET

American hostage mom and family freed 5 years after being kidnapped by Taliban

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An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children — all of whom were born in captivity — were rescued on Wednesday, five years to the day since the couple was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, ABC News has learned.

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Caitlan Coleman, 31, and her husband, Joshua Boyle, 34, who were abducted while hiking in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province in 2012, were secured in an exchange between Pakistani military and U.S. commandos late Wednesday after one of the longest — and strangest — American hostage ordeals in recent history, counterterrorism officials revealed.

The family has not yet departed Pakistan, however. The U.S. military had a C-130 waiting to fly the family out, U.S. officials say, but Coleman's husband Boyle would not allow the family to get on the plane and even refused to allow medical personnel perform an examination of his children. A source close to the Coleman family says the plane would have gone to Afghanistan and then to Germany.

Negotiations, officials say, on the family’s next destination are ongoing.

According to two counterterrorism officials, U.S. special operations forces were considering a raid to rescue the family until they were suddenly moved over the weekend to a new location with terrain that would have made an operation difficult. Yesterday, to the surprise of many within the U.S. military and government, the Pakistani army announced that the family had been recovered.

According to the Pakistani Army, an operation was carried out by Pakistani troops “based on actionable intelligence from US authorities,” but details remain sparse.

The Toronto Star reported that Boyle called his parents and told them that he was rescued following a shootout in which all five of his kidnappers were killed after he heard one of them say “kill the hostages.” A U.S. official told ABC News, however, that this was more of a release than a rescue. The U.S. role was limited to transporting the family out of Pakistan, the official said, and there was no firefight involving the Pakistani military.

“All we’re aware of is that there was a transfer of custody to the Pakistanis,” the official said.

PHOTO: Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle who were held as prisoners in Afghanistan in a photo taken before their kidnapping.Family photo via FBI
Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle who were held as prisoners in Afghanistan in a photo taken before their kidnapping.

In a statement delivered on Thursday morning, President Donald Trump said only that the U.S. government worked with the Pakistani government to secure the family’s release.

“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, and I want to thank the Pakistani government,” Trump said. “They worked very hard on this and I believe they're starting to respect the United States again. It's very important. I think right now a lot of countries are starting to respect the United States of America once again.”

The captor network was believed by intelligence and counterterrorism officials to have been part of the al-Qaeda-aligned Afghan Haqqani Network, the same group that held Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl prisoner for five years until May 2014, but no one ever asked the families to pay ransom.

The Colemans were tipped off by the FBI yesterday that news was coming in their case.

"The U.S government called us Wednesday afternoon,” Caitlan’s father Jim Coleman told ABC News. “They told me to sit down and then they told me what had happened. All they told me was that they were in 'friendly hands.’”

The ordeal took its toll on them, and in an exclusive interview with ABC News that aired Friday on Good Morning America, Caitlan’s mother Lynda Coleman described the relief she felt during her first phone call with her daughter in years.

“It was incredible,” Lynda said. “I’ve been waiting to hear that voice for so long. And then to hear her voice and have it sound exactly like the last time I talked to her.”

Jim, however, says he remains angry at his daughter’s husband for taking her to Afghanistan in the first place.

“What I can say is taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place is to me and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable,” he said.

He is also struggling to understand why his son-in-law refused to let his family fly out of Pakistan on U.S. military aircraft.

“I don’t know what five years in captivity would do to somebody but if it were me and I saw you a US aircraft and US soldiers, I’d be running for it, OK?” he said.

PHOTO: From left, Patrick Boyle, Linda Boyle, Lyn Coleman and Jim Coleman with a photo of their kidnapped children, Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped by the Taliban in late 2012, June 4, 2014, in Stewartstown, Pa. Bill Gorman/AP, File
From left, Patrick Boyle, Linda Boyle, Lyn Coleman and Jim Coleman with a photo of their kidnapped children, Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped by the Taliban in late 2012, June 4, 2014, in Stewartstown, Pa.

Only days ago, Coleman, Boyle and two of their children were shown in a video recorded by their captors and sent to their families last January. The Boyle family provided it to The Toronto Star and to ABC News.

The video shows the couple’s 4-year old son sitting on his father’s lap, dressed in the same filthy clothing as in a video posted on YouTube last December. Coleman is shown cradling their second child, still an infant. A third child was born after the video was recorded, sources told ABC News.

In the video, Boyle lightheartedly cracked jokes about letters received in reply from their parents in record time and said the conditions of their captivity improved around the beginning of the year.

Coleman, who grew up in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, told her father that her personality in captivity has changed from being like one Disney heroine to another.

"I would also like to say to my father specifically that I think you would like to know that my time in — married and my time as a mother and my time in prison — that I’ve become more of a Belle than an Ariel," said Coleman, known as Caity to her parents.

Jim Coleman told ABC News earlier this week that his daughter was trying to contrast Ariel of “The Little Mermaid,” who was rebellious and defied her father, with Belle of “Beauty and the Beast,” who protected her father.

“She is telling me, ‘Dad, I wish had listened to you more and not been Ariel and more a Belle,’” the elder Coleman said. “It’s a lot of humility and self-analysis of why she is in this situation.”

Caitlan Coleman is seen here in the undated family photo.Coleman Family
Caitlan Coleman is seen here in the undated family photo.

A senior official involved in hostage recovery told an ABC News reporter in January 2016 that the hostage family was to be freed in a deal after the successful recovery of Colin Rutherford, another Canadian in Haqqani hands. He was soon freed, but the Coleman-Boyles were not.

It soon emerged that the Taliban were upset over reports that Anas Haqqani, the brother of the No. 2 Afghan Taliban commander, Sirajuddin Haqqani, had been prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to death in secret proceedings in Kabul.

In August 2016 the Haqqani Taliban snatched an American professor and an Australian professor from the American University of Afghanistan in retaliation. That December, Caitlan Coleman and Boyle appeared in a new video — seen for the first time with their children, who were born as hostages — warning that their survival depended on a reprieve for Taliban prisoners.

Their families in the U.S. and Canada were soon told privately by Afghan officials that Anas Haqqani had been spared execution but that his release was politically impossible, U.S. and Afghan officials told ABC News earlier this year.

In the waning days — and even the last hours — of the Obama administration, diplomats tried hard to broker a deal for Coleman’s release, to no avail, according to several Obama aides who discussed the previously unreported hostage recovery efforts.

It was unclear Thursday morning whether the Boyle-Coleman family’s freedom came as the result of a new deal.

Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle are seen here in this undated family photo.Coleman Family
Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle are seen here in this undated family photo.

In the private January video addressed to their families, Boyle seemed more optimistic than in the ominous videos the Taliban released in December, which appear to have been made at the same time.

“Things here are going about as can be expected,” Boyle said in the January video. “But we were buoyed to receive your letter, and for the first time, we have hope that things might wrap up soon, God willing.”

President Trump, in a tax speech he made in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, made a cryptic reference to a country he did not name, saying that “something happened” and that Americans would “probably be hearing about it over the next few days.”

One counterterrorism believes it was a reference to Pakistan’s assistance in freeing Coleman and her family, the official said.

“America is being respected again. Something happened today, where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news,” Trump said Wednesday. “And one of my generals came in, they said, ‘You know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would’ve never done that.’ It was a great sign of respect. You’ll probably be hearing about it over the next few days. But this is a country that did not respect us. This is a country that respects us now. The world is starting to respect us again, believe me.”

ABC News’ Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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  • KCWang

    I wonder if it was not a scam dreamed up by the husband to extort a ransom, cash or released fighters, in return for their release.

    Among other things, what were these too doofuses doing hiking in Afghanistan?

    I've seen a few hikers in my time. These are the kind of people who would be hiking out of an all-you-can-eat buffet, not trekking in the mountains.

    That funky beard looks real Taliban to me. Ha ha.

    The truth will be revealed in due time. Nothing surprises me anymore.

  • Suspect Everything

    Her comments to her dad says a lot, sould've listened to you more dad. Ya Think! Dad wouldn't have said hey, it's such a nice day, let's go hike mountains in Afghanistan. Now the story says, the plane is waiting because her know it all husband doesn't want to fly. Yeah lady I'm glad you're free but you're right. You should've been more like Belle. Hint, think of yourself and nor jump when your husband says this is a great idea.

  • James Ginn

    Lets make up a good story for the sheeple.

  • Pat

    Hiking is good for the baby honey, my ex wife told me all about it.
    This story stinks to high heaven, this guy was definitely radicalized and his wife knows it.

  • KCWang

    That old expression "sh%t for brains" comes to mind when thinking about these hiking fools.

    As others say, there must be a lot more to this story. One can get sick of this kind of drama. Enough is enough.

  • Henri Chef

    What kind of fools go hiking in a war zone.....and then have three kids WHILE they are in prison? Absolutely insane....maybe a good time for birth control.

  • natalie

    Pakistan just proved we are idiots. I remember Bowe Berghdal was kept in a cage, starved, and sometimes chained down. These people get to live in a guarded gated community, write letters home and receive them, eat well, and not even be forced to wear hijab for more than just a video? Maybe there are reasons the man refused to board the plane.

  • JScott

    The article forgot to mention that Joshua Boyle was formerly married to Omar Khadr's sister who is a terrorist's best friend and is even suspected of talking part in terrorist activities. She also looked after the finances for Al Qaeda for a while after her father, who had been handling the financing for Bin Laden, was killed. She is still raising money for them apparently. This couple was not out hiking in Afghanistan. He was known for his extreme views in Canada. His wife was raped in front of his kids, but I wonder how much of that is true and was he really a prisoner. His wife may have been. Boyle refused to get on the plane the Americans had in Pakistan to bring them to the US. He is waiting on a commercial flight to Canada or so he says. Something strange here.. He obviously doesn't want to answer questions.

  • Camus53

    There are articles out there...do your own due diligence...that this "husband" may have had misplaced loyalties and interests from the beginning. The wife was 7 months pregnant hiking mountains?
    Something odd. Not right. Doesn't ring true. Two more kids conceived and born under "brutal" conditions?
    Time will tell what the real facts are!

  • Beststash

    Tell me again why you decided to hike in a war zone? I think there might be more to this story.

  • tet1953

    Who the hell goes backpacking in eastern Afghanistan?

  • Traveler808

    So the husband refuses to go on an American C-130 to leave and will not let American medical personnel examine his childern. There is something strange about the husband. I hope that poor woman gets away from this fool with her children.

  • Bill Snith

    Something is a bit off here.

  • petermarks

    What's the writer of the article smoking when the statement was made "America is respected again"? There's no way America will be respected again until Trump is out of office or if Trump stops his tweeting. Trump's addicted to tweeting and he's damaging all diplomatic relations by doing so. How can Trump be so stupid to use social media as his method of communication? Trump is overwhelmed with the exuberance of his own verbosity and he's destroying rather than "Making America Great Again".

  • Sunnyside Sam

    I simply want to know why Boyle refused to get ln the C-130 and leave !

  • Carlotta Monterey

    Three children born in captivity?

  • arsimpulsum

    Just watched David Muir on air. He said the husband refused to be checked out by American physicians and get on an American military plane. I'm sure Muir knows that Boyle was married to the sister of Omar Khadr who once went on air with the CBC saying she hoped to be a martyr. It's obvious that he doesn't trust the Americans - probably fearing they'll render him to Guantanamo Bay - but there is something more ominous about this guy. His extremism and support of it by the Canadian government. I'm sure Americans are aware of the Khadr family - Omar just got a massive settlement of 10 million Canadian dollars for CSIS allowing his Charter rights to be violated by Americans. Omar's dad was also visited by another Liberal - Jean Chretien - while the elder Khadr was in hospital in Pakistan. CBC has reported extensively on the money the mother fundraised for in Canada that was used to support terrorism directed at Americans. I hope that American news organs start reporting on Canadian politicians connections to terrorists and how they are willing to undermine our own Constitution just for votes.

  • Dicazi

    There are pictures of Trump speaking at the G-20 conference a couple of months ago.
    Several leaders were snickering and whispering while he was talking.

  • Dicazi

    Multiple American captives were released while Obama was in office.
    Including several held by North Korea.
    And little man praised Pakistan several months ago, for helping in the fight against terrorism.
    Now, they've suddenly changed and begin respecting us again?
    "Again" is funny.

  • rightened

    "The world is starting to respect us again. Believe me." WARNING. Whenever he says "believe me," you're in for the egotistical lies.

    Not even the HOSTAGES respect us. They refused to be seen by U.S. medical personnel or get on a C-130. Their actions are not unlike how the rest of the world is now reacting to the U.S.--even our allies.

  • george

    They REFUSED to return to the USA.

  • Nor Renrhaf

    Let em stay. They aren't captive now, which is good. We just don't need these idiots back. We have enough.

  • Jordan

    What sane woman goes hiking while 7 months pregnant in a hostile country? I have no sympathy for this family. Now the man does not want to board a US plane because he thinks he might be arrested because of previous Islamic ties. This guy has a guilty conscience if he thinks that. Let them go to Canada. Hope we never hear about them again.

  • RRbane

    You don't go hiking near any war zone countries like Afghanistan, N Korea, Iran & others.. that's a common sense people !

  • smokeybandit

    They had 3 kids. While held prisoner. Something doesn't exactly add up with that.

  • Where's the Revolution

    Who has worse hair Trump or Rand Paul?

  • deese

    These two bozos go hiking in Afghanistan -- who does that???? And surprise, surprise, get kidnapped! Have at least 3 kids in captivity, really you have got to wonder, what planet these two are from. Lucky for them and their families the US came through for its US citizen, the Canadian even luckier to be part of the deal -- they should have to reimburse the government for all the expense and trouble resulting from their reckless, stupid actions.

  • T2

    I read this entire story, but can't find the explanation for why the HUSBAND wouldn't allow his family to get on the plane.
    "he U.S. military had a C-130 waiting to fly the family out, U.S.
    officials say, but Coleman's husband Boyle would not allow the family to
    get on the plane and even refused to allow medical personnel perform an
    examination of his children."
    ?????

  • c.g.

    A bit of odd behavior if you are suddenly rescued after 5 years, but refuse to get on the plane to take you home or even allow your kids to be checked out by medical people? Wonder what that was all about.....

    "The family has not yet departed Pakistan, however. The U.S. military had a C-130 waiting to fly the family out, U.S. officials say, but Coleman's husband Boyle would not allow the family to get on the plane and even refused to allow medical personnel perform an examination of his children"

  • lfofriley

    It is a disgrace to this nation that trump pretends that no one has ever respected the us until now...we have never in history had the disrespect of the world as now because of this moron.

  • Entrepreneur

    The Haqani network who held them captive are well known to be accomplices of the Pakistani Military. So it is not surprising they were "rescued" without a shot being fired. This is a bone they are throwing to try and get on the better side of Trump.