Taliban deny fighters raped American hostage, killed baby

'No one has intentionally killed the child or carried out any other abuse on them'
Caitlan Coleman, her husband, Joshua Boyle, and their young children.
Caitlan Coleman, her husband, Joshua Boyle, and their young children.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban on Sunday denied an assertion by a freed Canadian hostage that his American wife had been raped during their five years of captivity and that their infant had been killed by the Haqqani network, a brutal arm of the Afghan insurgency.

The militants said the child had died during a miscarriage.

Soon after arriving in Toronto on Friday with his wife, Caitlan Coleman, and their three children, the former captive, Joshua Boyle, said that she had been raped by members of the Haqqani network.

He also said that the network had authorized “the murder of my infant daughter,” their fourth child. Coleman was pregnant when the couple was abducted in 2012 while traveling in Afghanistan.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, rejected the accusations of rape as “fabricated claims” fed to Boyle.

“From the beginning up to their freedom, the wife and the husband were not separated even for a few minutes — and the reason for that was to avoid any suspicions,” the spokesman said by telephone.

When Coleman was about to deliver the child, Mujahid said, there were no doctors in the area where they were being held.

“One female child was naturally miscarried,” Mujahid said. “No one has intentionally killed the child or carried out any other abuse on them. If that was our plan, they would not have gone home with three children.”

Many questions about the family’s travels to Afghanistan, their captivity and their eventual release remain unanswered. Several members of the Taliban leadership reached by phone repeated the lines put out in their statement without offering new details.

Mujahid also declined to talk about how the couple had been freed, saying that “only the few people guarding them” had details of the release and that he was still trying to reach those people.

Pakistani officials have said that the family was freed in northwestern tribal areas of the country after their forces acted on intelligence provided to them by the United States.

At a news conference, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, spokesman for the Pakistani military, said its forces had managed to trace the vehicle carrying the hostages within five hours of a tip from the United States, and had rescued the hostages after blowing out the vehicle’s tires. The captors “fled on foot,” he said.

Boyle, in a video message posted by the Pakistani military soon after their freedom, effusively thanked the Pakistani military for a “tremendously professional operation,” and said the military and intelligence forces “got between the car and the criminals to make sure the prisoners were safe and that my family was safe.”

U.S. officials have expressed gratitude to Pakistan for the release, and President Donald Trump called it “a positive moment” in the countries’ relationship. The release came as pressure by the Trump administration seemed to be mounting on Pakistan for its ties to the Afghan insurgency.

U.S. officials have said repercussions could be severe if Pakistan failed to curtail its support for the Afghan insurgency, and in particular, continue to allow a haven for its leaders, including the Haqqanis.

But Afghan officials in Kabul viewed the hostage release as an old Pakistani trick of offering the United States a concession each time the pressure builds. A senior Afghan official said that 2 1/2 years ago, its intelligence service had concluded that the family had been moved across the border into Pakistan, and that the information had been shared with the Americans.

In recent years, the Haqqani network has become increasingly integrated with the mainstream Taliban. The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, serves as the Taliban’s deputy supreme leader and has played an important role in the insurgency’s military victories.

But the network still maintains its special skills, including hostage-taking and carrying out some of the more sophisticated attacks and bombings in cities like Kabul. The group previously demanded the release of Anas Haqqani, one of Sirajuddin’s half brothers, in exchange for the freedom of the North American family.

The Haqqanis are believed to be still holding Kevin King, a professor of the American University of Afghanistan who was kidnapped in Kabul in 2016; and another American, Paul Overby, whose family said the Haqqanis abducted him in 2014 after he tried to interview the group’s leader.

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