In the summer of 2012, a pregnant American woman named Caitlan Coleman was kidnapped by the Taliban while traveling through Afghanistan with her husband, Joshua Boyle. More than four years later, she and her husband are still there. So are the two children she’s given birth to while in captivity.
US and Afghan officials familiar with the case say that no new talks with the Taliban have started since a new video showing the family was released late last year, and that none seem likely in the near future. The family are already the longest-held of the handful of Americans known to still be in militant hands in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and their captivity shows no signs of ending.
When we think about US hostages in Afghanistan and Pakistan, many of us think about Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who walked off of his base and was snatched by the Taliban in 2009 before being freed in a controversial prisoner swap in 2014 (he was the subject of the most recent season of the popular “Serial” podcast).
The Coleman saga has unfolded very differently. The Pentagon has a long-standing policy of doing everything possible to get missing troops back, even if it means swapping prisoners. The US government, by contrast, has an equally long-standing policy of refusing to negotiate with terror groups or to pay ransoms to buy the release of American civilian captives. Until recently, the families of missing US citizens were sometimes even told that they could be prosecuted under federal law -- and potentially jailed -- if they paid ransoms on their own.
That muddled policy has been particularly damaging to the efforts to bring Coleman and her family back home.
I’ve spent several months investigating the case and interviewing both Coleman’s father and an array of current and former government and military officials involved in the efforts to bring the family home. What I found is a dispiriting picture of government infighting that may have stymied two promising chances of winning their release, including one reported for the first time. You can read the full feature story here.