Pakistani soldiers have rescued a Canadian-American family of five that was being held hostage for nearly five years by a group that has ties to the Afghan Taliban.
U.S. citizen Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, were kidnapped while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2012. Coleman gave birth to the couple's three children while in captivity.
The Pakistani Army announced in an October 12 statement that the family was rescued during an operation in the northwestern Kurram tribal district near the Afghan border after the military received intelligence from U.S. officials.
It said U.S. intelligence agencies had been tracking the family in Afghanistan and that the captives had been moved across the border into Kurram on October 11.
Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor later gave additional details about the operation.
"We sent our troops, traced the vehicle on the basis of intelligence sharing by 1900 hours yesterday and recovered the hostages," he said in televised comments late on October 12.
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the release.
"Yesterday, the United States government, working in conjunction with the government of Pakistan, secured the release of the Boyle-Coleman family from captivity in Pakistan," Trump said in a statement on October 12, calling the rescue operation a "positive moment" for U.S.-Pakistani ties.
The Afghan Taliban-aligned Haqqani network released videos of the couple during their captivity.
The latest video, which was released in December 2016, showed the couple with two young boys. In it, Coleman, who was pregnant when she was abducted, begged for an end to their "Kafkaesque nightmare."
The Haqqani network has been demanding the release of three of its prisoners in Afghanistan.
The release of the family from custody comes as relations between Washington and Islamabad are at low point.
The United States has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to counter Islamist militants who operate across its border with Afghanistan – an accusation rejected by Islamabad.
Pakistan’s army said the success of the operation "underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan's continued commitment toward fighting this menace through cooperation between two forces against a common enemy."
“The Pakistani government's cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America's wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” Trump said in his statement. “We hope to see this type of cooperation and teamwork in helping secure the release of remaining hostages and in our future joint counterterrorism operations.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis praised Pakistan for successfully carrying out a potentially risky rescue mission, which family members said included a shootout during which Taliban captors were killed.
"This is a very positive moment and the Pakistan army performed well. We will hopefully see it being a harbinger for the future," Mattis told reporters on October 12.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said her government was "greatly relieved" the family had been released and was safe, and thanked the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan for their efforts.
The High Commissioner for Pakistan to Canada, Tariq Azim Khan, said the family was flown by helicopter to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad following the raid conducted by a Pakistani commando team.
He said all the members of the family were fit to travel but that it is still undecided whether they will fly to Canada or to the United States from the Pakistani capital.
In a video posted on the Toronto Star newspaper's website, Boyle's parents said he told them by phone he would see them within days. The couple offered thanks to the Pakistani soldiers who had "risked their lives" to rescue the family.
Meanwhile, reports quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying the U.S. Army was ready to fly the family out of Pakistan but that the couple refused to immediately board the aircraft over Boyle's concerns he could face U.S. scrutiny for links to a former Guantanamo captive.
Boyle was once married to the sister of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and the daughter of a late senior Al-Qaeda financier. CNN suggested that he might fear prosecution in the United States.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and the BBC