Home Canada Where were the US-Canadian hostages before they were freed?

Where were the US-Canadian hostages before they were freed?

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Jamal Hussain |

The Pakistani version is unambiguous—they were somewhere in Afghanistan from where the abducted family was in the process of being moved across to Pakistan through Kurram Agency (Kurram Agency is a Tribal Area adjacent to the Pak-Afghan border). The official US account is not very different.

The US intelligence setup had been tracking the family’s location at a remote valley in northwest Pakistan and had alerted Pakistan as the family and the kidnappers were in the process of being transferred by road to another location (Adam Goldman and Eric Schmitt, the New York Times October 17, 2017). On timely receipt of the movement, the convoy was intercepted by a Pakistani commando squad and the captives were liberated from the clutches of the kidnappers (Michelle Shephard National Security reporter, October 12, 2017).

The trust deficit between USA and Pakistan after the rescue event appears to have been mitigated. Both the sides must continue to ensure there is no dichotomy between their words and actions.

The remote valley in northwest Pakistan (where the US drone had captured grainy images of a woman among a group of militants who were believed to be Caitlan Coleman) very likely refers to the borderland which is a sliver of territory on either side of the official boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan commonly referred to as no man’s land.

Given the current tension between the two states, both refrain from any military action in the borderland without prior coordination for fear of escalation—remember the Salala incident of 2011 that nearly led to the rupture of Pakistan – US relationship. Coordinated military actions by either side on insurgents suspected to be present in the no man’s land has been a rarity because of a continued lack of trust.

Read more: Will the rescue of the hostages be the positive turning point…

This small ungovernable region has thus become a refuge for the criminals, insurgents, and fugitives. The Americans and Afghans admit that the couple was apprehended inside Afghanistan. The father of Caitlan Coleman, wife of Joshua Boyle, mentions hearing from Boyle for the last time just before their capture that they were in an internet café in what he described as an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan.

An Afghan official later admitted the couple was abducted in Wardak province, a rugged mountainous Taliban haven in Afghanistan (the Canadian Press October 12 2017). Despite all efforts by the Afghan and US intelligence agencies, a precise location of the couple and their captors could not be established perhaps because they were constantly on the move.

When Operation Zarb e Azb against the Haqqani stronghold in North Waziristan was launched in 2014, Afghanistan and ISAF were requested to set up an anvil on their side of the border to crush the retreating Haqqani fighters as the Pakistani hammer advanced.

The US and Afghan intelligence had finally established the presence of the captives and their captors in or near the Pak-Afghan borderland. This very critical intelligence report must have come from a combination of electronic, aerial and human intelligence. A drone attack was out of the question as it would have endangered the lives of the abductees.

When the group was suspected of making a move in a convoy of two large size cars through the Kurram Valley of Pakistan, this information was promptly conveyed to Pakistan in the hope it would initiate immediate measures to intercept the fleet and rescue Boyle and his family.

The success of the rescue operation by Pakistan, according to Michelle Shephard, a National Security reporter “underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s commitment towards fighting this menace through co-operation between the two forces against a common enemy”.

Read more: Taliban raped wife, killed daughter said Joshua Boyle after safe return…

Despite the anti-Pakistan onslaught by the CIA and a section of the US legislators and academia, CIA for once decided to trust Pakistan and test them on their commitment about the declaration of war against the Haqqani syndicate along with other factions of the Taliban. And Pakistan came up trumps, proving to the Americans, there was no dichotomy between what they preach and what they practice. In layman’s term, Pakistan walked the talk.

Of the three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan nearly a million are still unregistered and Pakistan’s effort to register or deport them runs into serious economic and humanitarian roadblocks.

Pakistan’s action has received worldwide accolades, especially from the USA. By demonstrating their professionalism and dedication in response to an actionable intelligence about the movement of terror groups, it has negated the charges that it is soft on the Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban. The effusive praise of the Pakistani efforts and hope for an improved and better mutual relationship has upended India and the anti-Pakistan lobbies in the USA with the full support of the Indian government and the Indian Diaspora in the USA.

An article titled, ‘Pakistan’s Gesture is Less than Meets the Eye’ by Krishnadev Calamur, an Indian origin US-based senior editor of the Atlantics an American magazine, has tried to insinuate that the hostage release story still has an open question whether and how any negotiation with Coleman and Boyle’s captors took place and with whom. Jennifer Griffin, the Fox News national-security correspondent quoting an unnamed US official “there was NO military operation to release Caitlan Coleman and her family.

This was a negotiated handover. “This conclusion was not backed by any verifiable testimony and flies in the face of the official stance of both USA and Pakistan. As a follow-up of the rescue operation, the Pakistani constabulary force in the Kharlachi area of the Kurram Agency undertook a search operation for the two handlers of the rescued foreigners who had reportedly escaped to a nearby Afghan refugee camp.

Read more: Are Islamabad & Washington all set to take the relationship to…

Four Frontier Corps personnel including an Army Captain Husnain were martyred and three others injured in a series of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that were set off during the search. If the rescue mission was a stage-managed affair, a negotiated settlement, as Jennifer Griffin’s unnamed US official claims, how would she and her mole explain the follow-up rescue operation where Pakistan risked the lives of its brave soldiers and officers going after the two Haqqani escapees, losing four in the process.

Four Frontier Corps personnel including an Army Captain Husnain were martyred and three others injured in a series of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that were set off during the search.

If the Haqqanis and the Pakistan military are allies as the duo imply, why would the former target the military in such a brazen manner? For the Goebbels of the world, the truth is of little consequence but those who claim to be members of the academia and journalists, such brazen disregard of events that shatter their theories belie their academic and journalistic credentials.

On October 16, 2017, Dawn Newspaper of Pakistan published a report titled “Hostage family held in Pakistan for five years: CIA.”

The CIA head Mike Pompeo according to the report had said on Thursday (October 15, 2017) that” the US-Canadian couple kidnapped by the militants in Afghanistan were held inside Pakistan for five years before being freed last week.” If Pompeo has drawn the conclusion about the hostages being in Pakistan on the basis that they were held in or very close to the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan that remains ungoverned because of political tensions between the two nations, the CIA head has given a mischievous anti-Pakistan spin to the truth without legally refuting the stance taken by his administration.

While the government has established its writ over FATA, as long as the Afghan border remains unregulated the likelihood of remnants of the Haqqani network and other terror groups continuing to survive in small packets along the ungoverned borderland region and as sleeper cells in its rural and urban centers cannot be ruled out.

Read more: Kidnapped Canadian says child killed, wife raped in Afghanistan

Of the three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, nearly a million are still unregistered and Pakistan’s effort to register or deport them runs into serious economic and humanitarian roadblocks. Steps initiated to repatriate them to Afghanistan are hampered by the refusal of Kabul to take them back and the objections raised by the UNHCR on humanitarian grounds. These refugee camps spread across the Tribal Agencies and Balochistan are a major headache for the Pakistani military in the counterinsurgency operations.

The effusive praise of the Pakistani efforts and hope for an improved and better mutual relationship has upended India and the anti-Pakistan lobbies in USA with the full support of the Indian government and the Indian Diaspora in USA.

Many of Afghan Refugee Camps within Pakistan have become a safe haven for the terrorists and leftovers of the Haqqani network after their infrastructure was destroyed and they had been routed from North Waziristan. One suspects the captors of the Boyle family were transferring them in one of the refugee camps in the area where they had their sleeper cells in place. UNHCR and other World Bodies must morally, economically and materially support Pakistan’s efforts in regulating the camps and deporting the unregistered elements who have the potential of providing shelter to the terror outfits on the run.

When Operation Zarb e Azb against the Haqqani stronghold in North Waziristan was launched in 2014, Afghanistan and ISAF were requested to set up an anvil on their side of the border to crush the retreating Haqqani fighters as the Pakistani hammer advanced. For reasons, Afghans and ISAF can better explain, this was not done. Perhaps they did not have the will or capacity or both, to challenge the Haqqanis.

Resultantly the surviving Haqqani elements easily slipped across the unguarded, ungoverned and lawless regions in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan, (that border Pakistan’s Tribal Agencies) which has now become their headquarters and from where they plan, finance and conduct terror raids both in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.

Read more: Will Trump’s praise for Pakistan improve ties?

While the USA accuses Pakistan of harboring the Haqqani syndicate on its soil, Pakistan too lay similar charges on the ISAF and Afghan forces for not targeting the TTP and other anti-Pakistan elements including the Haqqani network that are freely operating in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan that border Pakistan’s Tribal Agencies.

The US and Afghan intelligence had finally established the presence of the captives and their captors in or near the Pak-Afghan borderland. This very critical intelligence report must have come from a combination of electronic, aerial and human intelligence.

Why are these groups not being subjected to US Drone missile attacks when the Drones freely conduct such attacks in the Pakistan’s Tribal Agencies, is a question Pakistan has yet not received any satisfactory answer. Following the goodwill generated by the Pakistani actions in the hostage rescue, Drone missile attacks on the TTP and the Haqqani hideouts inside Afghanistan has now been commenced with increasing frequency.

The trust deficit between USA and Pakistan after the rescue event appears to have been mitigated. Both the sides must continue to ensure there is no dichotomy between their words and actions. They should also be wary of the spoilers trying to sow seeds of discords against a relationship that contrary to all their shenanigans is currently heading north.

Postscript: Caitlan Coleman mentions in her interview in Ottawa that contrary to what Pakistan maintains, the family was not crossing into Pakistan the day they were rescued but based on her assessment they had been in Pakistan for more than a year at that point. She also refuted the CIA claim that they were in Pakistan for five years; instead, the kidnappers were moving them to and from the Pak-Afghan border, generally staying close to the ungoverned border region. Her assessment does not directly contradict the claims of either Pakistan or the CIA. Depending on one’s bias the border region being referred to by Caitlan could be either be a place in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Air Commodore (retd) Jamal Hussain has served in Pakistan Air Force from 1966 to 1997. He was awarded Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the year 1982. He regularly contributes articles on defense-related issues in the Defence Journal from Pakistan, Probe Magazine (Dhaka – Bangladesh) and Dawn, The News, and The Nation English Dailies from Pakistan. He is the author of two books on ‘Air Power in South Asia’ and ‘Dynamics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.


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