U.S. and Afghan special operations troops raided an al-Qaida hideout in southeastern Afghanistan on Tuesday and freed the kidnapped son of a former Pakistani prime minister in an action that could ease frayed ties between Islamabad and Kabul.
Word that 30-year-old Ali Haider Gilani, an aspiring politician in the opposition Pakistan People's Party, was free after three years in captivity set off celebrations and dancing in the streets in his hometown of Multan in the south-central Punjab region.
"I can't wait to meet him. My mother is overwhelmed with emotion. I cannot explain in words how traumatic the three years were for our family," Gilani's brother, Ali Musa Gilani, told Pakistan's Geo News. Abdul Qadir Gilani, another brother, said, "Allah has given us so much happiness today. I can't describe it."
Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said that freeing Gilani was an unexpected result of the raid aimed at al-Qaida that killed four militants, but "this rescue is very good news." There were no casualties to U.S. or Afghan forces, he said.
Gilani appeared to be in good health and was undergoing medical evaluation at the Bagram air base north of Kabul before being sent home, Ryder said in a phone briefing to the Pentagon.
A statement by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said that Gilani "was rescued in Giyan District of Paktika Province Afghanistan by U.S. Special Operations Forces and Afghan Commandos in a partnered raid." Gilani, the son of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, was abducted by gunmen riding motorcycles in Multan in 2013.
U.S. and Afghan forces had identified terrorist activity," Ryder said. "There were terrorists where they struck and conducted this raid -- and during that activity, were able to rescue Mr. Gilani."
A statement by the office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also suggested that the freeing of Gilani may have been an incidental part of the raid.
"During this anti-insurgency operation, Ali Haider Gilani was identified at the site of the operation, and was freed from terrorists," the statement said.
Last year, Gilani's father went to Kabul to plead with Ghani for help in finding and rescuing his son, who was a candidate for Punjab provincial assembly at the time of his kidnapping.
Last week, Pakistan's government received a video showing Ali Haider Gilani in chains and pleading for a ransom to be paid for his release. The kidnappers asked for $30 million and later reduced the demand to about $7 million, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported.
Gilani's rescue came at a low point in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ghani recently shelved efforts to begin peace talks with the Taliban and blamed Pakistan for failing to rein in the insurgents.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter praised the U.S. and Afghan commandos for their "professionalism and skill." He also said the raid demonstrates the growing effectiveness of the Afghan security forces.
In a statement, he called it "an excellent example of the strong security and intelligence partnership between Afghan and U.S. forces under Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Working alongside our Afghan partners, we will continue to make it clear that there is no safe haven for terrorists in Afghanistan."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.