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Kabul rejects Pakistani account of hostage rescue

Freed Canadian hostage Joshua Boyle and one of his children walk outside the Boyle family home in Smiths Falls, Ontario, on Saturday. (AFP)
KABUL: An American-Canadian family released last week after five years in captivity were kidnapped by the Haqqani network in the Afghan province of Wardak and kept in Pakistan, the spokesmen for the Afghan defense and interior ministries said on Sunday.
Pakistan’s high commissioner to Canada said the elite Pakistani Special Services Group, acting on “real-time” intelligence from American sources, attacked the kidnappers as they moved the hostages across the border from Afghanistan.
“Pakistani commandos took action at the border and there was a shootout, and eventually (the hostages) were rescued,” Tariq Azim Khan told a Canadian media outlet on Thursday.
“One or two (of the kidnappers) escaped… and a search operation is still ongoing to catch them.”
But regarding the claim that the kidnappers had moved the hostages from Afghanistan, Gen. Dawlat Waziri, chief spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, told Arab News: “We utterly deny this.”
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh told Arab News: “There’s enough evidence to prove that they were in Pakistan since the time of their abduction.”
Waziri said Pakistan freed the hostages under the guise of rescuing them from kidnappers, in order to “reduce American and international pressure.”
According to media reports a few months ago, the US withheld $50 million in aid to Pakistan because it was allegedly doing too little to combat the terrorist organization that seized the hostages.
On Thursday, US President Donald Trump said the release of the family of five was “a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan.” The release came ahead of a meeting of senior US officials with Pakistani leaders, and the resumption of Afghan peace talks in Oman.
Representatives of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US will take part in the talks, but there are no reports of the Taliban’s participation. Islamabad has been under pressure to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Rape denied
In a related development, a Taliban spokesman denied on Sunday accusations by Joshua Boyle, the former hostage, that one of his children had been murdered and his wife raped while they were being held captive, according to a Reuters report.
Boyle told reporters soon after he, his wife, Caitlan Coleman, and their three children returned to Canada on Friday that their captors had murdered a fourth child and raped his wife.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid rejected that as propaganda by the Western governments that helped rescue the family.
“We strongly reject these fake and fabricated allegations of this Canadian family, now in the hands of the enemy,” he said in a statement sent to media.
“Whatever statement the enemy wants to put in their mouth, the family is forced to make it.” Boyle called on the Taliban to “provide my family with the justice we deserve.”
Mujahid said the couple was intentionally never separated in order to protect their safety. He also denied that their child had been murdered, but acknowledged that one child became sick and died.
“We were in a remote area without access to a doctor and medications that led to the loss of the child,” he said. Three children, all born in captivity, were rescued along with Boyle and Coleman.
The U.S. government calls the Haqqani network “the most lethal and sophisticated insurgent group” in Afghanistan.
Its operational chief, Sirajuddin Haqqani, was named deputy to the Taliban’s newly appointed leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in 2015, cementing the ties between the groups.
The Haqqanis previously held U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed in a swap for Taliban prisoners in 2014, and are suspected of holding two professors, an American and an Australian, who were kidnapped outside their university in Kabul in 2016.
A senior Afghan government official told Reuters that American and Afghan special forces launched two unsuccessful raids to try to rescue the professors in Afghanistan, but officials now believe the pair has been taken to Haqqani hideouts over the border in Pakistan. (Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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