The United States (US) had allegedly readied a team of Navy SEALs to launch a raid in Pakistan ─ much like the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad ─ after a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone picked up footage of American hostage Caitlan Coleman and her children moving in a militant camp, the New York Times reported.
The Pakistan Army’s recovery of the hostages “within hours of receiving actionable intelligence” from the United States (US) has so far been seen as an indicator of an uptick in the strained Pakistan-US relationship post the announcement of Donald Trump’s new South Asia and Afghan strategy. Trump himself had reacted saying Pakistan was “starting to respect the United States again”.
The NYT report, which does not contain any named sources, offers a very different narrative. It goes as far as to claim that the US government had, in fact, pressured Pakistan into rescuing the hostages — with a SEAL team raid in the cards as a backup option in case Islamabad failed to comply.
The report claims that a CIA drone had last month picked up grainy footage of a young woman and children as it circled an alleged Haqqani network encampment in a remote valley in the Kurram Agency.
The woman was identified as Coleman by intelligence analysts, a backpacker who was kidnapped by the Haqqani network in Afghanistan in October 2012, along with her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle.
SEAL Team 6 was subsequently mobilised to mount a rescue mission which would have violated Pakistani airspace, the publication cited senior American officials as saying. They even began rehearsing for the raid, which was to take place close to where the CIA had originally spotted the family, according to a military official quoted by the NYT.
However, the operation was called off as some US government officials were not sure that the people spotted by the drones were in fact the abducted hostages, the NYT said. There were also concerns regarding the terrain and the moon, which was reportedly too bright for a nighttime airborne raid, the report said.
On October 11, 2017, the militants headed to Kohat by road, hostages in tow, upon which US intelligence officials decided to spring into action, the NYT said. A plan to pressure Islamabad was formed by US officials, which President Donald Trump was later briefed on.
If the Pakistani government declined to act on the information, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both advocated the idea of a rescue mission by the team of elite Navy SEAL commandos, the NYT said.
As the militants drove the family out of the camp, United States Ambassador David Hale allegedly delivered “an urgent message” to the government in Islamabad: resolve the issue or the US would.
According to the NYT, the implication behind the message was that the US would set aside any concerns and launch a raid in Pakistan to free the hostages.
As Hale conveyed the Trump administration’s demands, other senior US officials, including Centcom chief Gen Joseph Votel, were also applying pressure on Islamabad.
The Pakistan Army acted within hours to intercept the vehicle in a dramatic encounter near Kohat.