In a video made public Tuesday, Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman warned that their captors would kill them and their children unless the United States and Canada stopped the Afghan government from executing Taliban prisoners.
The couple — the parents of at least one child born in captivity — went missing in October 2012 during a summer tour of Russia and Central Asia. Afghan officials believe Boyle and Coleman were abducted in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, a mountainous Taliban haven, according to the Associated Press.
Boyle is Canadian and Coleman, his wife, is American. They were supposed to return home in time for Coleman's December 2012 due date, but family members lost contact with them shortly after Coleman e-mailed from an Internet cafe in what he called an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan, according to the AP.
The AP and U.S. authorities have not confirmed the date of the video. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the AP that the video was not new and had, in fact, been recorded in 2015. Mujahid said Boyle and Coleman and their two children remain in captivity but in good health.
It is unclear how many children the couple have. Both reference "children" in the hostage video.
In the video, Coleman clutches at a headscarf that covers all but her face. Boyle, who sports a long, untrimmed beard, speaks first:
"Our captors are terrified at the thought of their own mortality approaching and are saying that they will take reprisals on our own family," he says. "They will execute us, women and children included, if the policies of the Afghan government are not overturned either by the Afghan government or by Canada, somehow."
Coleman also spoke about the threat to their family. "Because of their fear, they are willing to kill us, willing to kill women, to kill children, to kill whomever to get these policies reversed or to take revenge. Because of this, I ask if my government can do anything to change the policies of the Afghan government, to stop their policy of executing men before these men start executing their prisoners, their family that they are holding."
"I know that this must be very terrifying and horrifying for my family to hear that these men are willing to go to these lengths," she continues. "But they are, so if you are willing, if you are able to do anything to help, if you could, please try to help stop this depravity."
The video surfaced as U.S. officials are trying to train Afghan military forces to survive without significant aid from the United States.
As Pamela Constable writes for The Washington Post:
For the Afghan infantry troops who bear the brunt of the war, just getting enough food, rest and ammunition can be a challenge on long deployments. American advisers are trying to set up a system in which soldiers rotate regularly through periods of fighting, resting and training, but the plan is still in the early stages and the army has been stretched thin this summer battling Taliban offensives.Last year, Afghan casualties were the highest since the war began, with about 16,000 soldiers and police officers killed or wounded. But U.S. military officials said Afghan forces are doing better this year. In a briefing last week, Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland, senior spokesman for the U.S. military mission, said that the Taliban had won 'some tactical victories' but that 'overall, Afghan forces are generally on track with their campaign plans.'
In a news briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the video of the couple is still being examined for its authenticity:
We remain concerned, obviously, about the welfare of Caitlan and her family, and we continue to urge for their immediate release on humanitarian grounds. We are regularly engaged with the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan at the highest levels to emphasize our commitment to seeing our citizens returned safely to their families. And I think as you know, and I’ve said many times, the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas remains one of our highest priorities here at the State Department. We continue to work aggressively to bring all U.S. citizens held hostage overseas home to their families.
This week's video was the second time the captives had beseeched the U.S. government.
In 2014, Coleman's family released two videos in which the couple asked the U.S. government to help free them from the Taliban.
The United States' efforts to rescue American hostages have faced heavy criticism — from the families of Boyle and Coleman and from a U.S. Army Special Forces officer who has worked to recover captives.
In June 2015, Lt. Col. Jason Amerine testified before Congress that the nation's effort to recover American hostages held overseas is "dysfunctional" and mired in bureaucratic red tape and failure.
“Is the system broken?” Amerine asked rhetorically during the hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Layers upon layers of bureaucracy hid the extent of our failure from our leaders. I believe we all failed the commander in chief by not getting critical advice to him.”
Amerine told the Senate that his office at the Pentagon was asked in 2013 to help recover Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held captive for five years overseas and later charged with desertion, according to The Washington Post. He was recovered May 31, 2014, in a controversial swap for five Taliban officials.
Bergdahl's case has also been intertwined with the effort to free Boyle and Coleman.
In 2014, Coleman's family decided to release the initial videos received from her captors "in light of the publicity surrounding the weekend rescue of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed from Taliban custody in exchange for the release of five high-level Taliban suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," The Post reported.
"The families say they are disappointed that their children and grandchild were not freed as part of the same deal but are appealing for help from anyone who can give it, including the couple’s captors or the government."