Canadian Held Hostage in Afghanistan Says Militants Killed His Child



Canadian Held Hostage in Afghanistan Says Militants Killed His Child

By IAN AUSTEN and MEGAN SPECIA  OCT. 14, 2017(CANADA)  The New York Times

OTTAWA — Joshua Boyle called himself a “pilgrim” who was “engaged in helping” in Afghanistan. A man who crossed into Afghanistan with him described him as an adventurer.

Mr. Boyle, 34, who is from Breslau, Ontario, and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, 31, were freed along with their three children on Wednesday after five years as hostages of the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, which seized them in October 2012, while they were hiking. They arrived in Toronto on Friday evening.

Emerging from a room at the Toronto airport — where the children, all born in captivity, met their Canadian grandparents for the first time — Mr. Boyle denounced his captors in brief remarks to reporters and gave more details of their horrific ordeal, including the rape of his wife and that the couple had a fourth child, who was killed by their captors.

“The stupidity and evil of the Haqqani network’s kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter,” he said at the airport.

But he offered little insight into what compelled himself and his wife, who was pregnant at the time they were captured, on their journey in the first place.

Those who knew him before also have little understanding of how he ended up as a hostage in Afghanistan.

While Mr. Boyle was a frequent editor of Wikipedia articles and an avid participant in online gaming forums — who adopted the names of obscure Star Wars characters as his handle — he was otherwise virtually invisible on social media. The son of a federal tax judge and devout Christian, he was once married to an outspoken defender of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a blog post in 2012, Richard Cronin, a British cyclist, described Mr. Boyle’s successful effort at persuading him to join him in entering Afghanistan.

”We started talking about Lawrence of Arabia and the explorer Richard Burton,” Mr. Cronin wrote. “He asked me if I admired these explorers.” He said that Mr. Boyle minimized the risk arguing that “the window is closing and the security situation will only deteriorate when the American troops leave.”

Mr. Boyle, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, grew up northwest of Toronto and attended a Mennonite high school in Kitchener, Ontario, according to a local newspaper report.

Mr. Boyle was well known in the online gaming world, said several other players of the “Star Wars Combine” role-playing game, where he used aliases of obscure characters associated with Star Wars films, “Keir Santage,” a rebel fighter pilot, and “Teniel Djo.”

A Facebook page for Star Wars Combine players shared the news of his release.

One player, Alex Edwards, 32, from Carleton Place, Ontario, said the two had been friends since 2002, when they met in the online game and at one point in time talked three or four times a week.

They soon realized they lived close to one another and eventually met in person.

Mr. Edwards, writing in a series of online messages, described Mr. Boyle as an “extremely private person.” He added, “Josh stayed off social media.”

According to his online friends, he and his wife met during their teenage years in an online Star Wars forum but did not start a romantic relationship until later on.

Other friends who knew Mr. Boyle through the online gaming world said he always had an interest in Afghan history and the role the Taliban played in the country.

While studying at the nearby University of Waterloo, where he graduated in 2005, Mr. Boyle became immersed in writing and editing Wikipedia entries about Islam and terrorism.

The case of Omar Khadr, the only Canadian held by the United States military in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, eventually became a cause for Mr. Boyle.

About 2008, he offered his services as a spokesman to Mr. Khadr’s family. Within the year, he became the third husband of Mr. Khadr’s sister, Zaynab.

Outspoken, Ms. Khadr has defended the Sept. 11 attacks; her brother, who was found in Canada to be unjustly held and tortured, is still prohibited by a court order from meeting her without permission and supervision.

Mr. Boyle, under the user name “Sherurcij” (which also sometimes included the first name “Josh”) spent a lot of time editing and updating the Wikipedia page of his former brother-in-law.

His other contributions were largely focused on members of the Khadr family, Canadian politics and some posts on Nazi history, among others. He also made contributions to pages about other terrorism incidents around the world and the profiles of those involved.

His page also included a note at the bottom, in Arabic, that said “Peace is the solution.” And it included a passage of the Robert W. Service poem “The Men That Don’t Fit In.”

“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,” the poem reads. “A race that can’t stay still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will.”

Mr. Boyle’s marriage to Ms. Khadr lasted just a year. He then took a job at a hotel reservation call center in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick, a tiny village where he bought a house.

One of his former co-workers at the call center said in an interview that two things defined Mr. Boyle: his strong convictions and his desire to bring change to troubled parts of the world.

“I think he really did believe that he could personally make a difference by getting in with the common people,” said Terry Ritchie, who is now retired.

But Mr. Ritchie, who during Mr. Boyle’s time in captivity pressured Canadian politicians on his behalf, recalled him as excessively idealistic, someone he crossed the street to avoid.

“He was absolutely smug about his convictions,” Mr. Ritchie said.

Mr. Ritchie said his co-worker kept a prayer rug at the call center and had permission to use a room for prayers, suggesting that Mr. Boyle had become a Muslim.

Ms. Coleman arrived in Perth-Andover soon after the couple were married on a hiking trip in Central America. Not long afterward they went on the trip that led to their capture and confinement.

In a video released by the military in Pakistan after Mr. Boyle’s release, Mr. Boyle, sitting beside an exhausted looking Ms. Coleman and their children, repeatedly insisted that their captors were not Muslims.

“The men who kidnapped us did not even make a pretense of being Muslim,” he said. “They were undoubtedly criminals. They were undoubtedly pagans. They were directed by commanders who were not guided by Islam and who were not even pretending they were guided by Islam.”

He added: “The criminals who held us they were not good Muslims. They were not even bad Muslims. They were pagan.”

While Mr. Boyle called for justice against his captors late on Friday, he also acknowledged the task now awaiting him.

“It will be of incredible importance to my family that we are able to build a secure sanctuary for our three surviving children to call a home, to focus on edification and to try to regain some portion of the childhood that they have lost,” he said at the airport.

A version of this article appears in print on October 15, 2017, on Page A10 of the New York editionwith the headline: Ex-Hostage Says Captors Killed His Baby and Raped His Wife. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

As U.S. Adds Troops in Afghanistan, Trump’s Strategy Remains Undefined



The New York Times

WASHINGTON — When President Trump made his first major decision on the war in Afghanistan, he did not announce it in a nationally televised address from the White House or a speech at West Point.

Instead, the Pentagon issued a news release late one afternoon last week confirming that the president had given the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, the authority to send several thousand additional troops to a war that, in its 16th year, engages about 8,800 American troops.

Mr. Trump, who writes avidly on Twitter about war and peace in other parts of the world, said nothing about the announcement. But its effect was unmistakable: He had outsourced the decision on how to proceed militarily in Afghanistan to the Pentagon, a startling break with how former President Barack Obama and many of his predecessors handled the anguished task of sending Americans into foreign conflicts.

The White House played down the Pentagon’s vaguely worded statement, which referred only to setting “troop levels” as a stopgap measure — a tacit admission of the administration’s internal conflicts over what to do about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

With a president who ran for office almost never having talked about the war, a coterie of political advisers who bitterly oppose deeper American engagement in it, and a national security team dominated by generals worried about the consequences if the United States does not act quickly, the decision could succeed in buying time for Mr. Trump and his advisers to fully deliberate over what to do in Afghanistan.

But former commanders and military scholars said that in sending troops before having a strategy, Mr. Trump has put the cart before the horse, eroded the tradition of civilian control over the military, and abdicated the president’s duty to announce and defend troop deployments.

“A commander in chief keeps control of limited wars by defining missions, selecting commanders and setting troop levels,” said Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who was a top commander and the American ambassador in Afghanistan. “To delegate any of these is dangerous.”

The decision to send additional troops represents at least a temporary victory for Mr. Mattis and Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, over Mr. Trump’s aides, including his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, who had warned that sending more troops was a slippery slope toward nation building, anathema to nationalists like him who reject both the interventionist neoconservatives of the George W. Bush administration and the limited war fought by Mr. Obama.

Those objections stymied the troop proposal several weeks ago. But officials said the White House was rattled by a huge truck bomb in Kabul, the Afghan capital, that killed more than 150, as well as by fears that military trends are running against the government of President Ashraf Ghani, an American-friendly former World Bank official, to the point that it might be in danger of collapse.

General McMaster — who served in Afghanistan as the head of an anti-corruption task force and is closely allied with Mr. Mattis, another former general with Afghanistan experience — argued passionately to Mr. Trump that the military effort had to be expanded without further delay, according to one official.

“What we are seeing now is that the president has acknowledged that the Afghan mission is important, and we ought to do it right,” said James Jay Carafano, a national security specialist at the conservative Heritage Foundation who advised Mr. Trump’s presidential transition.

White House officials say they are still debating America’s role in Afghanistan — one senior adviser said they would consider issues as basic as whether the country needs a strong central government, rather than the warlords who have historically divided power there. In the meantime, the Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to send 3,000 to 5,000 troops to try to stabilize the country.

But it is not clear what Mr. Trump’s view of the strategy is, or even how involved he is in the debate. Officials said he did attend two National Security Council meetings last week — the first to discuss the troop issue, and the second to discuss the broader policy for South Asia.

Mr. Trump has said virtually nothing about Afghanistan since he was elected, or even since he started his campaign. But his views on the issue, based on Twitter posts when he was a private citizen, are uniformly hostile to America’s involvement in the war.

“It is time to get out of Afghanistan,” Mr. Trump wrote in 2012. “We are building roads and schools for people that hate us. It is not in our national interests.”

Even Mr. Mattis has acknowledged that more troops will not be sufficient without a broader strategy, which the White House does not plan to complete before mid-July. Among the major questions are how to deal with the sanctuaries that the Taliban and other militants still have in neighboring Pakistan, how to fight Afghanistan’s endemic corruption, and how to encourage a political settlement with the Taliban.

“The 3,000 to 5,000 may prevent a near-term backsliding, but it is not going to be decisive in turning the tide of this war,” said Michèle A. Flournoy, the top Pentagon policy official during the Obama administration. “The administration needs to accompany any troop increase with a new political and economic strategy to help the Afghans achieve greater stability.”

Some experts noted that Mr. Trump’s hands-off approach on troop numbers was squarely in the Republican tradition of avoiding anything perceived as micromanaging the military, a criticism frequently leveled at Mr. Obama. But the Pentagon has assumed an even more outsize role in this administration, given a chaotic White House staff and an impulsive, preoccupied president.

“The president doesn’t have the time or interest to make these decisions, so they want to leave the decision-making to Mattis,” said Richard H. Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who advised General McMaster on his doctoral thesis. “They trust Mattis because he’s got the expertise and common sense.”

On Friday, the Pentagon said Mr. Mattis had not yet made a decision on the precise troop increase. Any decision will come only after the Pentagon consults with other government agencies, the Afghan government and NATO allies, a spokeswoman, Dana W. White, said in a statement, adding, “The secretary will continue to follow the president’s guidance on our overall strategy.”

In several days of congressional testimony last week, Mr. Mattis argued that sending more troops would have multiple benefits. Instead of limiting itself to advisers at high-level corps headquarters, the United States would have advisers accompany Afghan brigades in the field, where their mentoring of Afghan troops would be more effective, he said.

The advisers would also call in air and artillery, which would enable the United States to expand its firepower on behalf of Afghan forces. That would more closely resemble what American forces are doing in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State.

“These are going to be people specifically designed, trained and organized and equipped to go in and advise them how you take the hill, get them the air support and artillery support and rocket support that will enable them,” Mr. Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee.

That suggested that in addition to advisers, the United States would be sending artillery and surface-to-surface rocket units, as well as more Special Operations forces.

The Obama administration initially limited the use of American air power against the Taliban, hoping to make the Afghan military less dependent on the United States. But since Afghanistan has no real air force, the move resulted in lost ground and soaring Afghan casualties, prompting Mr. Obama to modify the policy.

Because Mr. Obama pushed for a faster troop reduction than some of his commanders had wanted, the advisory effort has been limited. In February, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the commander of the American-led force in Afghanistan, said he had a “shortfall of a few thousand” troops.

About 6,700 American troops are training and advising Afghan forces, including 400 who are outside the country and 2,100 who are involved in counterterrorism operations. (NATO and other nations have deployed another 6,500 troops for the training effort.)

“Three thousand to 5,000 additional advisers and trainers is essential,” John R. Allen, a retired general who served as the commander in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, said in an interview.

When he served as the commander in Afghanistan, General Allen envisioned a residual force of 13,600 Americans and 6,000 NATO and other foreign troops — a force level that would have allowed advisers to be placed at all of the Afghan Army corps headquarters, to accompany Afghan brigades on some operations, and to set up a national training center in Helmand Province.

The White House is calling its strategy a South Asia policy, to distinguish it from the Obama administration’s so-called Af-Pak policy. Officials said it would include diplomacy with Pakistan, India and even Iran, a nation that American diplomats cooperated with during the early months of the Afghan war but that the White House now sees as a bitter foe.

But the administration’s efforts to harness diplomacy may be handicapped by the depleted condition of the State Department. And that suggests to some that whatever strategy the Trump administration eventually arrives at will be dominated by the military.

“I am not against a troop increase,” said Daniel F. Feldman, who served as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan under Mr. Obama. “But this appears to be tactics waiting for a strategy.”

Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed reporting.