The family of a pregnant American woman who went missing in Afghanistan in late 2012 with her Canadian husband received two videos last year in which the couple asked the U.S. government to help free them and their child from Taliban captors, the Associated Press has learned.
The videos offer the first and only clues about what happened to Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle after they lost touch with their families 20 months ago while traveling in a mountainous region near the capital, Kabul. U.S. law enforcement officials investigating the couple’s disappearance consider the videos authentic but say they hold limited investigative value since it’s not clear when or where they were made.
The video files, which were provided to the Associated Press, were e-mailed to Coleman’s father in July and September by an Afghan man who identified himself as having ties to the Taliban but who has been out of contact for several months. In one, a subdued Coleman — dressed in a conservative black garment that covers all but her face — appeals to “my president, Barack Obama” for help.
“I would ask that my family and my government do everything that they can to bring my husband, child and I to safety and freedom,” the 28-year-old says in the other recording, talking into a wobbly camera while seated beside her husband, whose beard is long and untrimmed.
Although Coleman mentions a child, no baby is shown in the videos. The families say they have no information about the name or gender of the child, who would be about 18 months old.
The families decided to make the videos public now, 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 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.
“It would be no more appropriate to have our government turn their backs on their citizens than to turn their backs on those who serve,” Patrick Boyle, a Canadian judge and the father of Joshua Boyle, said in a telephone interview.
The families say their children, though without political or military ties to the government, are prisoners just as Bergdahl was and should be recognized as “innocent tourists” and not penalized further for venturing into dangerous territory.
Relatives describe the couple, who wed in 2011 after meeting online, as well-intentioned but naive adventure seekers.
The couple set off in summer 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then to Afghanistan.
With plans to return home in December ahead of Coleman’s due date, they checked in regularly via e-mail during their travels — expressing in their writings an awareness of the perils they faced.
The communication abruptly ended Oct. 8, 2012, after Boyle e-mailed from an Internet cafe in what he called an “unsafe” part of Afghanistan. The last withdrawals from the couple’s bank account were made Oct. 8 and 9 in Kabul. Two months later, an Afghan official told the Associated Press that the two had been abducted in Wardak, a rugged, mountainous Taliban haven.