A U.S. special forces officer says his attempts to put a rescue plan together for two Canadian hostages being held in Pakistan were scuttled by U.S. government infighting and a lack of policy on how to deal with hostage situations.
Green Beret Lt.-Col. Jason Amerine had originally been assigned by the U.S. Army in 2013 to look into ways to obtain the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by insurgents in 2009 in Afghanistan.
Amerine told a U.S. Senate hearing Thursday that during his efforts, he obtained details about Colin Rutherford of Toronto; U.S. citizen Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle of Ottawa; and U.S. citizen Warren Weinstein.
Coleman, 28, and Boyle, 30, were abducted in Afghanistan in 2012. While in captivity, Coleman gave birth to the couple’s baby. Rutherford, 26, of Toronto, went missing in late 2010 while travelling as a tourist in Afghanistan.
“We realized that there were civilian hostages in Pakistan that nobody was trying to free so they were added to our mission,” Amerine told the committee.
Amerine’s testimony is the first indication that Boyle and Rutherford may have been moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Amerine said his team’s efforts to free the hostages were scuttled because of a lack of consensus in the U.S. government on how to deal with hostage situations, as well as bureaucratic infighting and lack of co-operation between American military services and government departments.
Weinstein, a U.S. contractor, was abducted by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2011. He was killed in January of this year by mistake in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.
Bergdahl was released in 2014 after a deal that saw the release of five Taliban leaders from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.
“Warren Weinstein is dead,” Amerine told U.S. lawmakers Thursday. “Colin Rutherford, Joshua Boyle, Caitlan Coleman and the child she bore in captivity are still hostages in Pakistan. I failed them. I exhausted all efforts and resources available to return them but I failed.”
Amerine’s testimony was in front of a government committee looking into the treatment of whistleblowers. The decorated Green Beret and Afghan war veteran said he has been targeted for retribution by the U.S. Army after trying to raise awareness among lawmakers about the plight of the hostages and the dysfunctional U.S. government system trying to deal with those who are captured overseas.
Amerine’s assignment was to develop a way to free the hostages, focusing on negotiations rather than a risky special forces raid.
He developed one plan that would have seen the release of all the hostages, plus two other westerners also in captivity, in exchange for Haji Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan drug dealer with ties to the Taliban. Noorzai is currently in prison in the U.S.
The deal was scuttled by the U.S. State Department, which instead focused solely on freeing Bergdahl. The State Department has said the deal for Bergdahl’s release “was the best, probably last chance to get him home.”
Boyle, the son of an Ottawa tax judge, and Coleman were believed to be travelling in Wardak province in Afghanistan when they were abducted in the fall of 2012. In 2014, a video surfaced showing Coleman and Boyle, both dressed in traditional Islamic garb. Boyle had grown a heavy beard.
The Canadian government has remained silent on the fate of Rutherford and Boyle. Amy Mills, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said the government is aware that Boyle and Rutherford were taken hostage in Afghanistan.
”Canada has been pursuing all appropriate channels to seek further information and officials are in close contact with Afghan authorities,” she said in an email. “The Government of Canada will not comment or release any information that may compromise ongoing efforts and that risks endangering the safety of Canadian citizens abroad.”
Shortly after the couple disappeared, Caitlan Coleman’s father, James, said he was not sure why they had gone to Afghanistan. He suggested the couple, who had previously travelled to Central America, might have been trying to join an aid group.