Man kidnapped by Taliban-linked group is "doing pretty well," father says

Last Updated Oct 12, 2017 7:22 PM EDT

WASHINGTON -- American Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle are free after being kidnapped while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2012 by a group with ties to the Taliban, according to President Trump and Pakistani officials.

As the couple and their young children come to realize life after captivity, details of the harrowing account are beginning to emerge.

The Toronto Star reports that Boyle spoke to his parents after his release and told them he'd been in the trunk of the kidnappers' car with his wife and children when Pakistani forces rescued them. He told the paper there was a shoot-out and that the last words he heard from the kidnappers were, "kill the hostages."

The paper writes that all five kidnappers were shot dead and that Boyle was injured by shrapnel.

"Josh said he was doing pretty well for someone who has spent the last five years in an underground prison," his father, Patrick, told the paper.

CBS News' David Martin reports that U.S. officials could not confirm the account that Boyle described to the Toronto Star.

171012-coleman-family-release.jpg

Framegrab from an undated video shows Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle held in captivity.

Courtesy of the Coleman Family

White House Chief of State John Kelly described the conditions the family lived in as "nightmarish conditions," Martin reports.

"They were essentially living in a hole for five years," Kelly said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. sent a C-130 transport plane to Pakistan to get the family out of the country, but Boyle declined to board, a White House official tells CBS News' David Martin. Boyle's family called him and tried to persuade him to board the plane but were unsuccessful, reports CBS News' Margaret Brennan. 

As of Thursday midday, the family's precise whereabouts were unclear, and it was not immediately known when they would return to North America. The family was not in U.S. custody, though they were together in a safe, undisclosed location in Pakistan, according to a U.S. national security official, who wasn't authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The couple has told U.S. officials they wanted to fly commercially to Canada, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the situation.

The couple also recorded a video, in which they recounted their first conversation with their son in five years.

"We got to hear his voice. It was amazing. He told us how much his children were looking forward meeting their grandparents," his mother, Linda Boyle, said.

Coleman's parents, Jim and Lyn Coleman, meanwhile, posted a statement on the door of their Pennsylvania home saying they appreciated "all the interest and concern being expressed at the joyful news that Caity, Josh and our grandchildren have been released after five long years of captivity."

The family was captured five years ago and were held by the Haqqani network in Pakistan. Coleman was pregnant when she was captured and the couple had three children during that time.

In a statement, Mr. Trump said the U.S. secured the family's release Wednesday.

"Today they are free," Mr. Trump said. "This is a positive moment for our country's relationship with Pakistan." He called the Pakistanis' cooperation "a sign that it is honoring America's wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region."

In remarks before signing an executive order later in the morning, Mr. Trump praised Pakistan for its willingness to "do more to provide security in the region." He said the release suggests other "countries are starting to respect the United States of America once again."

A U.S. national security official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing operation, commended Pakistan for their critical assistance in securing the family's release -- and described the cooperation as an important step in the right direction for U.S.-Pakistani relations.

During the U.S. State Department's press briefing Wednesday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed that the Pakistani military acted with the information the U.S. provided.

She added that the U.S. is "tremendously happy" to have them "returning" and that the Trump administration has put bringing Americans home at the top of the priority list since coming into office. 

The family was being held by the Haqqani network. U.S. officials call the group a terrorist organization and have targeted its leaders with drone strikes. But the group also operates like a criminal network. Unlike the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, it does not typically execute Western hostages, preferring to ransom them for cash.

Mr. Trump has called on Pakistan to do more to tackle militant organizations that use its territory as a home base.

"We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond," Mr. Trump said in a recent speech announcing his Afghanistan policy. He issued a stark warning: "We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately."

A statement was released Wednesday by Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, that described the successful rescue mission and said that "no one should have to experience the pain and anguish that Ms. Coleman and her family had been put through in the past years."

"I am delighted that their ordeal is finally over," Chaudhry's statement added. "Ms. Coleman's successful rescue operation is a testimony of results that can be achieved through cooperation and team work. Cooperation is the most effective way to defeat terrorism."

ap-16243835940367.jpg

In this June 4, 2014, file photo, mother's Linda Boyle, left and Lyn Coleman hold photo of their married children, Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped by the Taliban in late 2012 in Stewartstown, Pa. 

AP

Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a late senior al Qaeda financier. Her father, Ahmed Said Khadr, and the family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.

The Canadian-born Omar Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound. He was taken to Guantanamo and ultimately charged with war crimes by a military commission. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included murder and was sentenced to eight years plus the time he had already spent in custody.

Several years ago, Zaynab Khadr and her mother also upset many Canadians by expressing pro-al Qaeda views.

Officials had discounted any link between that background and Boyle's capture, with one official describing it in 2014 as a "horrible coincidence."

The release came together rapidly Wednesday. It happened nearly five years to the day after Coleman and Boyle lost touch with their families while traveling in a mountainous region near the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The couple set off in the summer 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan. Coleman's parents last heard from their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, from an internet cafe in what Boyle described as an "unsafe" part of Afghanistan.

The only trace of the couple since has been in the form of videos released by their captors and family letters.

Coleman's parents told the online Circa News service in July 2016 that they received a letter from their daughter in November 2015, in which she wrote that she'd given birth to a second child in captivity. It's unclear whether they knew she'd had a third.

"I pray to hear from you again, to hear how everybody is doing," the letter read.

In that interview, Jim Coleman issued a plea to top Taliban commanders to be "kind and merciful" and let the couple go.

Boyle's parents said last year that a Taliban-released video had given them their first glimpse of their grandchildren.

"It is an indescribable emotional sense one has watching a grandson making faces at the camera, while hearing our son's leg chains clanging up and down on the floor as he tries to settle his son," the Boyles said in a written statement. "It is unbelievable that they have had to shield their sons from their horrible reality for four years."

The parents say their son told them in a letter that he and his wife have tried to protect the children by pretending their signs of captivity were part of a game being played with guards.

"It is simply heartbreaking to watch both boys so keenly observing their new surroundings in a makeshift film studio, while listening to their mother describe how they were made to watch her being defiled," the Boyles said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said her country was "greatly relieved" the family was safe, and she thanked the U.S., Afghan and Pakistani governments for their efforts.

"Joshua, Caitlan, their children and the Boyle and Coleman families have endured a horrible ordeal over the past five years. We stand ready to support them as they begin their healing journey," Freeland said.