Freeing four American prisoners from Iranian prisons required billions of dollars and high-level diplomacy, but liberating captives – including an American woman who was pregnant when she was taken in Afghanistan – from the shadowy organization that once held Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will likely prove far more daunting.
What is a pregnant US woman doing in a war torn region to begin with?
About 3 years ago American Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, vanished in Afghanistan. The couple, who were backpacking through the region while Coleman was five-months’ pregnant, next surfaced in a video emailed to Coleman’s family in York County, Pennsylvania. The U.S. government believes they, as well as an unnamed American in his 60s, are being held by the infamous Haqqani network.
“We should be putting the fear of God in these terrorists that if you mess with an American citizen, we will get you and we will win,” a source with knowledge of back-channel communications aimed at their return told Fox News.com. “Are we really doing that?”
The Taliban-aligned Haqqani network operates in the lawless Afghan-Pakistani border. It held Bergdahl, the U.S. Army sergeant who left his base in Afghanistan, for five years, until the U.S. won his release with a controversial prisoner swap. Talks to free Coleman, Boyle and the unnamed hostage are proceeding, but little is known about the progress being made, if any is.
Several months after their disappearance in 2012, videos featuring the couple were emailed to the Coleman family by an Afghan man claiming to have Taliban ties but no direct involvement in their captivity. It wasn’t until June of 2014 that the families publicized the two videos – in which a gaunt Coleman was seen pleading to “my president, Barack Obama” for help. Coleman, who is now 30, references their baby in the tape, but the child is not shown.
The decision to draw attention to their plight came following the release of Bergdahl, in the hopes that further awareness might lead to a successful negotiation. Family members also expressed disappointment that Boyle, Coleman and their baby were not freed as part of the deal.
“There is a possibility that she may have had a second child in captivity since then,” said the defense source familiar with the case. “So ultimately we’re looking at three main scenarios – one child, two children or none at all.”
Last year the Obama administration attempted to improve overall hostage negotiation strategy by revising the current policy – approving changes to help streamline the process, declassify information in a faster manner so it can be shared with relatives and ultimately allowing them to pay for information that may help lead to the release of a loved one.
A Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell also was established as the single government entity responsible for coordinating the recovery the U.S hostages abroad, located in the FBI headquarters but with professionals from several agencies including the Department of Defense and Department of Justice involved.
The changes were prompted by a series of tragedies surrounding American hostages in recent years, including journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Kayla Mueller, who were all murdered by their ISIS captors. Aid worker Warren Weinstein was inadvertently killed by a CIA drone strike while in the internment of Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
Dozens of Americans — including former U.S. Marine-turned-journalist Austin Tice, who vanished in Syria, and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007 — are reportedly being held around the world, although many have not been heard from in months or even years. But whether the Obama administration’s new approach will prove effective remains to be seen.