The son of a former Pakistani prime minister who has been held hostage by the Taliban for more than three years was rescued during a joint counterterrorism raid by American and Afghan special operations forces on Tuesday.
Ali Haider Gilani, son of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, was being held in a suspected al Qaeda compound in the Giyan district of eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province when U.S. and Afghan commandos raided the compound, according to a Defense Department statement. It was not known that he was being held there before the raid was planned.
“Four enemy combatants were killed as a result of the operation. No other injuries or damage was observed or reported,” Pentagon officials said.
Pakistan Foreign Ministry confirmed Mr. Gilani’s rescue after being informed of the operation by Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar, according to local reports.
The 30-year-old Mr. Gilani was transported to Bagram Airfield for basic medical evaluation, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan, told The Associated Press.
He was flown home to Pakistan on Wednesday and was reunited with his family, AP said.
Mr. Gilani’s rescue was not the main objective of the joint special operations raid, according to recent reports. When U.S. and Afghan forces entered the compound, he was the only unarmed individual in the compound, according to the AP.
The operation was carried out under the U.S. counterterrorism mission dubbed Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. That American-led campaign is separate from the U.S. and NATO noncombat mission known as Operation Inherent Resolve.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter praised the raid, noting ongoing U.S. combat operations under the Freedom’s Sentinel banner “continue to make it clear that there is no safe haven for terrorists in Afghanistan.”
Mr. Gilani was kidnapped in May 2013 in Farrukhabad, India, nearly a week before national elections in Pakistan were slated to begin. His father claimed his kidnappers had demanded the release of several al Qaeda operatives in exchange for his son’s release.
Paktika province is one of several in Afghanistan where al Qaeda operatives hold territory in the country.
Roughly 100 to 300 al Qaeda members are active in Afghanistan, concentrated in the eastern Afghanistan provinces of Kunar and Ghazni and in Kandahar province in the country’s south, Pentagon officials say. While al Qaeda fighters have kept somewhat of a low profile on the battlefield since the 2001 invasion, they have been recently coordinating operations and support with several terror groups in the country, including the Taliban.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed pleasure over the rescue, while the current leader of the People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said on Twitter the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad had called the elder Mr. Gilani to tell him about his son’s liberation.
The elder Mr. Gilani, who served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012, headed the secular anti-Taliban Pakistan People’s Party, which oversaw several major offensives against Islamic militants. He was seen on Pakistani TV attending an election rally after hearing the news.
“This is a very good day for me,” the father said.
⦁ This article was based in part on wire service reports.