UPDATE 1-Pakistan official details car chase that freed kidnapped U.S.-Canadian family
(Raises reports of drones overhead during operation, addsTaliban information and location of raid)
By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD, Oct 13 (Reuters) – Pakistani troops shot out thetyres of a vehicle carrying a kidnapped U.S.-Canadian couple andtheir children in a raid that led to the family’s release afterfive years of being held hostage, a Pakistani security officialsaid on Friday.
U.S. drones were hovering near the northwestern Pakistaniarea where American Caitlan Campbell, her Canadian husbandJoshua Boyle and their three children, all born in captivity,were freed, another security official said.
Campbell and Boyle were held by the Taliban-linked Haqqaninetwork after being kidnapped while backpacking in Afghanistan,and their rescue marked a rare positive note in often-fraughtU.S.-Pakistan relations.
The family flew out of Pakistan on Friday, according to aPakistani airport official who saw them. It was not clearwhether they were bound for Canada or the United States.
A senior Pakistani security source on Friday detailed howthe family were freed following a car chase in the northwesterntribal region bordering Afghanistan.
He said Pakistani troops and intelligence agents, acting ona U.S. intelligence tip, zeroed in on a vehicle holding thefamily as they were being moved into Kurram tribal agency nearthe town of Kohat, some 60 km (37 miles) inside Pakistan.
Agents from Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) spyagency and soldiers attempted to intercept the vehicle, but itsped away, according to the security source.
“Our troops fired at the vehicle and burst its tyres,” hesaid, declining to be identified because he is not authorised tospeak openly to the media.
The kidnappers managed to escape, the security officialadded, saying the troops wouldn’t fire at the fleeing captorsfor fear of harming the hostages. The army recovered thehostages safely from the car.
Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told NBC News thatthe vehicle’s driver and another militant had escaped to anearby refugee camp.
DRONES REPORTED NEARBY
The family’s rescue has been hailed by U.S. President DonaldTrump as a “positive moment” for U.S.-Pakistan relations, whichhave frayed in recent years amid Washington’s assertions thatIslamabad has not been doing enough to tackle Haqqani militantswho are believed to be on Pakistani soil.
Trump, in a statement, said the release of the hostagesshowed Pakistan was acquiescing to “America’s wishes for it todo more to provide security in the region”.
A second Pakistani security official, speaking on conditionof anonymity, said U.S. drones on Wednesday had been seencircling Kohat, suggesting U.S. co-operation includedsophisticated surveillance inside Pakistan.
Kohat is deep inside Pakistani territory, next to theeastern edge of Kurram agency in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province -outside the Afghan frontier zone where U.S. drones have in thepast been tolerated by Pakistan.
The U.S. embassy and the Pakistani military did not commenton the drone report.
However, a Taliban commander in Pakistan with knowledge ofthe hostage family said U.S. drones flying in the area promptedtheir captors to move them.
“We took care of this family like our own family members andspecial guests, but after frequent flying of U.S. drones onKurram tribal region and its adjoining areas, it was decided tomove them to a safer place,” said the Taliban official oncondition of anonymity.
“They were being shifted to a safer place when captured bythe Pakistani forces.”
Pakistani officials bristle at U.S. claims Islamabad is notdoing enough to tackle Islamist militants, particularly theHaqqanis. After the release of the family, they emphasised theimportance of co-operation and intelligence sharing byWashington, which has threatened to cut military aid and otherpunitive measures against Pakistan.
Pakistan’s military indicated the family were rescuedshortly after entering Pakistan from Afghanistan, and agovernment official repeated that assertion on Friday.
“We have been taking on the terrorists… So we have takenaction based on the intelligence that was provided by the U.S.side,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria.
He added that he had no other details on the operation”maybe because they were abducted in Afghanistan, they werethere in Afghanistan, and that could be the reason why you havenot heard much about it”.
However, two Taliban sources with knowledge of the family’scaptivity said they had been kept in Pakistan in recent years.
A U.S. government source in Washington also said there wasno indication the family had been in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani network operates on both sides of the porousAfghan-Pakistani border but senior militants have acknowledgedthey moved a major base of operations to Kurram agency in thetribal areas.
The United States and Afghanistan say that safe havensinside Pakistan allow the Taliban, including the Haqqaninetwork, to plan and launch attacks against the Western-backedAfghan government and U.S. and other foreign troops that supportthem.
The Taliban have been fighting for 16 years to re-establishtheir ultra-Islamist regime that was toppled in a U.S.-backedmilitary operation over sheltering the al Qaeda terroristnetwork that planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.(Additional reporting by Saad Sayeed in Islamabad; Writing byDrazen Jorgic, Kay Johnson; Editing by Neil Fullick and NickMacfie)