The US Navy Seals were ready to mount an operation inside Pakistan, similar to the covert raid that killed Osama bin Laden, if it failed to act decisively on a US tip off to rescue a Canadian-American family abducted by the Haqqani network in 2012, according to a media report. The whereabouts of the hostages were located by a CIA drone in a remote valley in northwest Pakistan last month. The grainy images – captured by the drone – of a young woman and children in a militant camp were a “breakthrough”, The New York Times reported, citing senior American officials. Caitlan Coleman, an American citizen, and her husband Joshua Boyle, a Canadian citizen, were kidnapped in 2012 in Afghanistan while on a backpacking trip. Coleman, 31, was pregnant at the time of abduction. All the three children were born in captivity. “Military planners mobilised members of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, an elite group of commandos, to mount a rescue,” the paper said, quoting the officials. The commandos of SEAL Team 6, tapped to rescue the family, started rehearsing. The raid was to take place not far from where the CIA had originally spotted the family, according to one military official.
But the risky operation planned on Pakistani soil was called off because some in the US government were not certain that the people spotted by the drones were Coleman, Boyle and their children, according to the officials.
Others voiced worries about the difficult terrain and the moon — it was too bright for a nighttime airborne raid.
Days later, the CIA watched in alarm as militants drove the family out of the camp and across Pakistan’s lawless tribal lands. On October 11, as they headed toward Kohat, a city farther inside Pakistan, American intelligence officials realised they could not let the opportunity to save the family slip by — the United States had to act.
American officials formed a plan to press the Pakistan government. President Donald Trump was briefed, and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both backed the idea that should the Pakistani government decline to try to rescue the family, the Navy SEALs would go in.
US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale delivered an urgent message to the Pakistani government – “Resolve this, or the US will”, the paper quoted one of the officials as saying. “The implication was clear. If the Pakistanis did not act decisively, the US would set aside its unease and launch a raid deep inside the country to free the family,” it said.
“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 American officials’ belief that the Pakistani government gives safe haven to the Taliban-linked Haqqani network,” it added. “The push worked. American officials said the Pakistanis acted quickly, intercepting the vehicle with Coleman and her family,” the paper said.
Pakistani officials later said they acted within hours. In a statement, the Pakistan Army said they recovered 5 Western hostages including 1 Canadian, his US National wife and their three children from terrorist custody through an operation based on actionable intelligence from US authorities.
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.