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 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 travelling 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 AP, were emailed to Coleman's father last 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.
- Family pleads for couple missing in Afghanistan
"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.
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 still holding out hope for the U.S. and Canadian governments to secure their release on humanitarian grounds.
"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, the father of Joshua Boyle, said in a telephone interview.
Relatives describe the couple, who wed in 2011 after meeting online, as well-intentioned but naive adventure seekers.
They once spent months travelling through Latin America, where they lived among indigenous Guatemalans and where Boyle grew a long beard that led some children to call him "Santa Claus."
Communication abruptly ended
The couple set off again in the summer of 2012 for a journey that took them to Russia, the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and then finally to Afghanistan. With plans to return home in December ahead of Coleman's due date, they checked in regularly via email during their travels — expressing in their writings an awareness of the perils they faced — and toured the region, staying in hostels and their tent.
The communication abruptly ended on Oct. 8, 2012, after Boyle emailed 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 AP that the two had been abducted in Wardak Providence, a rugged, mountainous Taliban haven.
The videos, each under two minutes long and featuring the couple seated in spare settings before cloth-draped backgrounds, contain no apparent clues — such as distinctive ethnic music — that might help investigators identify captors or locale. The videos do contain time stamps — one says May 20, 2013, the other Aug. 20, 2013 — but officials say those notations can easily be manipulated.
Caitlan Coleman refers to her child in the videos, but no child is shown — a fact one U.S. official said was concerning. The grandparents say they don't know the name or gender of the child, who would be about 18 months old.