US wants to build ties with Pakistan: Pence

* Abbasi says Islamabad will respond to any actionable intelligence shared by US * NYT claims Navy SEALs were ready if Pakistan had failed to recover hostages

ISLAMABAD: The US on Wednesday reaffirmed the importance of relations with Pakistan and said it would like to further build this relationship for peace and prosperity of the region

US Vice-President Mike Pence telephoned Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and thanked the government of Pakistan and praised the professionalism of Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies for swift response and safe recovery of US national Caitlin Coleman, her husband Joshua Boyle and their three children.

Last week, Pakistan’s security forces, with the support of US intelligence, had freed the American woman, her Canadian husband and their three children from terrorists’ captivity. The foreigners were recovered from Nawe Kali, a remote area about 15 kilometres southwest of Kohat, following a joint operation by security forces and the intelligence agencies, officials had said. The recovery of hostages was hailed by President Donald Trump as a ‘positive moment’ in relations between Islamabad and Washington.

Re-affirming Pakistan’s resolve to eliminate terrorism from its soil, the prime minister assured the US-vice president that Pakistan would respond to any actionable intelligence shared by US.

The two leaders agreed to maintain high-level engagements to strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest.

Vice-President Pence also accepted an invitation by Prime Minister Abbasi to visit Pakistan in near future.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also called to convey US government’s gratitude for the safe recovery of the hostages.

Meanwhile a report in the New York Times claimed that 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 Pakistan Army’s recovery of the hostages ‘within hours of receiving actionable intelligence’ from the 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.

The 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, US Ambassador David Hale allegedly delivered an ‘urgent message’ to the government in Islamabad: resolve the issue or the US would.

 

Published in Daily Times, October 18th 2017.