Family Freed After 5 Years Of Captivity In Afghanistan

Oct 13, 2017
Originally published on October 17, 2017 4:31 pm

An American woman and her family were freed after being held by an extremist group in Afghanistan for five years. David Greene talks with journalist David Rohde, who was held by the same group. Rohde is an adviser to Hostage U.S., a nonprofit group that supports hostages and their families.

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An American woman and her family are free after five years in captivity in Pakistan. Pennsylvania native Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Josh Boyle had three children while they were being held by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is a sadly familiar tale for journalist David Rohde. In 2009, he was a reporter for The New York Times working on a book about Afghanistan. He was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and escaped after seven months in detention. And he joins us this morning from our bureau in New York.

David, thanks for being here.

DAVID ROHDE: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So I know you are an adviser to a hostage support group. You've been working with the sister of Josh Boyle in this case. I mean, what stands out to you about this rescue?

ROHDE: How unexpected it was in that, frankly, the Pakistani military freed captives. This is the first time, I think in a decade, that the Pakistanis have done anything like this.

GREENE: And what does that tell us about the Pakistani government and their efforts to rein in the Haqqani network?

ROHDE: It's really not clear. I spoke to a U.S. intelligence official yesterday, and they were cautious. They said, you know, whether this was a mere gesture or a real change in attitude by the Pakistani military towards the Taliban, you know, we're going to have to wait and see. There's a long, long history, since - well, before 2001 but after it of the Pakistani military supporting particularly this one branch of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, but also supporting the Taliban movement in general.

GREENE: Let me just play a little bit of President Trump praising Pakistan for its willing to do more for security in the region. Let's listen here.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to thank the Pakistani government. I want to thank Pakistan. They worked very hard on this. And I believe they're starting to respect the United States again.

GREENE: Do you get the sense that that is true or maybe overly optimistic when it comes to Pakistani cooperation in things like this?

ROHDE: It may be true. I mean, frankly, the president's tough rhetoric on Pakistan may have been a factor in the decision of the Pakistani military to act on this intelligence they received that led to the raid. But, you know, every president has pressured Pakistan since 2001 - George W. Bush, Barack Obama. You know, the Obama ministration cut off military aid to Pakistan at one point to try to pressure them on this.

The support - the safe haven that the Taliban have in Pakistan is one of the primary reasons that the whole American war effort has struggled and, you know, why the war has become the longest - the war in Afghanistan - the longest in U.S. history. The Taliban simply leave Afghanistan, go to these safe havens that they have in Pakistan and it's virtually impossible to defeat them militarily.

GREENE: OK. So you were kidnapped by the Haqqani network in 2009. I mean, for people who don't follow the specifics of the Taliban and groups like this, can you tell us about them, who they are, what motivates them?

ROHDE: My guards were convinced that the 9/11 attacks were staged as a sort of joint effort by, you know, the U.S., India and Israel to eliminate Islam from the face of the earth. That might sound strange, but these are young men who were sort of brainwashed by Taliban leaders and by hard-line mullahs in certain mosques.

And they were told that American soldiers were forcing Afghans to convert to Christianity. They also believe that Afghan women were being forced to work as prostitutes on U.S. military bases. So it was, you know, very stark.

And again, it was very strong in these safe havens inside Pakistan where the Taliban had sort of re-established a ministate. We, you know, toppled them, as everyone knows, in 2001. But many of their leaders just moved over the border into the mountains of Pakistan.

GREENE: I know - as I mentioned, you've been working with Josh Boyle's sister. You suggested this was a total surprise. So this family had - what? - pretty much lost hope that they would be rescued ever?

ROHDE: It's incredibly difficult for families. And there's some ongoing cases now, you know, in Afghanistan, in Syria, Iran, North Korea, Yemen - there's current hostages being held. And the families work quietly behind the scenes. They're very afraid of saying the wrong thing and that somehow might anger captors and lead to their loved one being killed. I'm very close to the family of James Foley, who was executed by the Islamic State in Syria and also know the family of Steven Satloff.

So it's an awful, awful experience for these families. They think - they have this illusion that if they do the right thing, they can literally save the life of their loved one. But they can't. Often these - the demands are crazy - millions of dollars, the release of many prisoners. And families simply can't do it.

GREENE: All right, we've been speaking to David Rohde. He's the online news director of The New Yorker. In 2009, he was kidnapped in Afghanistan, held captive for seven months by the Taliban. He has a book about that experience. It's called "A Rope And A Prayer."

David, thanks for the time this morning. We really appreciate it.

ROHDE: Thank you.