Navy SEALs were ready if Pakistan failed to free family held as hostages

WASHINGTON: A CIA drone was circling a remote valley in northwest Pakistan last month when it picked up an unusual sight: a young woman and children in a militant camp. To intelligence analysts, she appeared to be an American abducted five years earlier while backpacking in Afghanistan with her Canadian husband.

The grainy images were a breakthrough. Military planners mobilized members of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, an elite group of commandos, to mount a rescue, according to senior US officials. But the operation was called off amid concerns, and days later, the CIA watched in alarm as militants drove the family out of the camp and across Pakistan’s lawless tribal lands.

The top US diplomat in Pakistan, Ambassador David Hale, turned to his host country, one of the officials said, delivering an urgent message to the Pakistani government: Resolve this, or the United States will.

The implication was clear. If the Pakistanis did not act decisively, the United States would set aside its unease and launch a raid deep inside the country to free the family. It would be another humiliating episode for the Pakistani government, reminiscent of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, conducted by the same elite Navy SEAL commandos well into Pakistan without its government’s knowledge. And a failure to act would underscore US officials’ belief that the Pakistani government gives safe haven to the Taliban-linked Haqqani network that had kidnapped the family.

Pakistani officials said they acted within hours. With assistance from US intelligence, they located the vehicle and rescued the family last week in a dramatic confrontation with its captors. Inside the car were Caitlan Coleman , 31; Joshua Boyle , 34, her Canadian husband; and their three children.

The rescue ended an intensive effort by US intelligence officials to locate the couple — who had been taken hostage in October 2012 — and their children. When she and Boyle were kidnapped, Coleman was seven months pregnant; she gave birth four times in captivity.

The CIA declined to comment. Trump administration officials cast the rescue as a win for Pakistan without publicly acknowledging that officials there had to be pressured into conducting the operation.

"This is a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan," President Donald Trump said in a statement.

Efforts to free the family had stalled repeatedly, and the family’s time as hostages was harsh. Boyle has said that his wife was raped and that the Taliban killed one of their children shortly after birth, an allegation the militants have denied.

In January 2016, the United States thought a deal had been struck with the Haqqanis, with help from Qatar, to release hostages. The FBI and Army Rangers picked up Colin Rutherford, a Canadian being held by the Haqqanis, and US officials were hopeful that Coleman and her family might be next.

But the Haqqanis freed no one else. US officials said communications with the Haqqani network had gotten garbled, causing confusion, and the death of the leader of the Taliban, killed by a US drone strike […]