An American woman and three children released by a Taliban-linked group are still in Pakistan after her Canadian husband declined to board a plane to the U.S., three American officials said Thursday.
Caitlan Coleman, who is originally from Pennsylvania, and Canadian Joshua Boyle were kidnapped by the militants while hiking in Afghanistan in late 2012. Coleman was pregnant when she was captured, and the couple had three children while being held.
The U.S. had a C-130 ready to fly the family out of Pakistan but the husband did not want the transportation, the American officials told NBC News. It was not clear why they rejected the opportunity to immediately leave.
The five family members were in the custody of workers at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, according to a U.S. official.
FBI Director Chris Wray said “we could not be happier” about the release.
“It’s a great day. They’ve been held a long time,” he said.
The couple had pleaded for their release in propaganda videos released by their captors. In a video released in December, Coleman referred to “the Kafkaesque nightmare in which we find ourselves” and urged “governments on both sides” to reach a deal for their freedom. She then adds: “My children have seen their mother defiled.”
The family were held by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group that supports the Taliban, when the Pakistani military mounted what it called “an intelligence-based operation by Pakistan troops and intelligence agencies.”
The Haqqani network, whose leader is the deputy head of the Afghan Taliban, also held Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five years. The Afghan Taliban obtained five top commanders in exchange for the U.S. soldier in 2014 in a deal with the U.S. brokered by Qatar.
President Donald Trump praised Pakistan for its role in the release.
“Today they are free,” he said in a statement. “This is a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s cooperation was a “sign that it is honoring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” Trump added.
The Pakistani statement said the family had been held in Afghanistan but that “U.S. intelligence agencies has been tracking them” and shared that they had crossed the border on Wednesday.
It added: “The operation by Pakistani forces, based on actionable intelligence from U.S. authorities, was successful; all hostages were recovered safe and sound.”
A senior Pakistani security official told NBC News that the operation involved army commandos as well as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
The U.S. has long criticized Pakistan for not aggressively going after the Haqqani network, which is considered part of the Taliban.
In August, Trump warned Pakistan “has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists,” a reference to the country’s alleged support for militant groups like the Haqqani network. Pakistan rejects accusations that it shelters the militants.
The Haqqanis waged war on NATO forces in Afghanistan and have been blamed for many of the more than 2,000 U.S. military deaths there.
Due to their wealth and deep links to local tribes and, one Western diplomat dubbed the Haqqanis “the Kennedys of the Taliban movement.”
Courtney Kube and Hans Nichols reported from Washington. Wajahat S. Khan reported from Islamabad, Pakistan. F. Brinley Bruton reported from London. Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.