Freed Taliban hostage Joshua Boyle says his two young sons are "improving" just days after the family returned to Canada after being held in Afghanistan.

Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman and their three children - two boys and a baby girl - arrived in Toronto on Friday (local time) after being held hostage by a Taliban-linked extremist network for five years.

The traumatised family, who were rescued last week, are staying with Boyle's parents in Smith Falls, Ontario, according to the Daily Mail.

Caitlan Coleman talks in the video while her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle holds their two children. Photo / AP
Caitlan Coleman talks in the video while her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle holds their two children. Photo / AP

Their eldest son, Najaeshi Jonah, 4, was spotted playing freely in the garden of the home on Saturday.

Advertisement

Boyle told Canada's CTV news in a statement that their two boys were "improving".

He said Najaeshi Jonah was busy exploring a closet in the home and said "he wants to sleep in it tonight and make a giant 'mouse nest' out of the clothes."

Their younger son, Dhakwoen Noah, had stopped viewing his grandparents with "terror" but still remains "incredibly troubled and stressed over everything".

He said the youngest boy had fallen in love with his grandmother after she made him pancakes.

"She's the first person he's accepted since 2015," Boyle said. "Needless to say, thousands of times seeing the guards on a daily basis did not endear him to even one of them."

The couple also have a 2-month-old daughter. They say a second daughter born in captivity was slain by their captors.

Joshua Boyle and his son Jonah play in the garden at his parents house in Smiths Falls. Photo / AP
Joshua Boyle and his son Jonah play in the garden at his parents house in Smiths Falls. Photo / AP

All of their children were born in captivity after the couple were taken hostage in Afghanistan while on a backpacking trip five years ago.

"These are children who three days ago they did not know what a toilet looks like. They used a bucket,' Boyle said in a video released Saturday by Pakistan's military, filmed before he left that country.

Advertisement

"Three days ago they did not know what a light is or what a door is except that it is a metal thing that is locked in their face to make them a prisoner.

"And now they are seeing houses, they are seeing food, they are seeing gifts, all of this. They are doing very well."

Boyle said Pakistani security forces positioned themselves between the hostages and their Haqqani network captors to keep the family safe amid the gunfire during their rescue.

Joshua Boyle and one of his kids play in the garden at his parents house in Smiths Falls. Photo / AP
Joshua Boyle and one of his kids play in the garden at his parents house in Smiths Falls. Photo / AP

"A major comes over to me while I still have blood on me. The street is chaos and he says to me, 'In the American media they said that we support the Haqqani network and that we make it possible. Today you have seen the truth. Did we not put bullets in those bastards?'' Boyle said, appearing beside his wife and children in the video.

"And so I can say to you I did see the truth, and the truth was that car was riddled with bullets. The ISI [Pakistan's intelligence agency] and the army got between the criminals and the car to make sure the prisoners were safe and my family was safe. They put them to flight and they ran like cowards. And this is proof enough to me the Pakistanis are doing everything to their utmost."

The circumstances under which the video was recorded were not immediately clear.

Boyle said after landing at Toronto's airport that the extremists killed their newborn daughter and raped his wife during the years they were held.

Joshua Boyle and one of his kids play in the garden at his parents house in Smiths Falls. Photo / AP
Joshua Boyle and one of his kids play in the garden at his parents house in Smiths Falls. Photo / AP

He called on the Afghan government to bring their captors to justice, saying, "God willing, this litany of stupidity will be the epitaph of the Haqqani network."

The birth of the fourth child had not been publicly known until then.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria said the rescue raid was based on a tip from US intelligence and shows that Pakistan will act against a "common enemy" when Washington shares information.

US officials have long accused Pakistan of ignoring groups like the Haqqani network.

After returning to his parents' home in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Boyle emailed the Associated Press a statement saying they had reached the first true "home" that the children have ever known - after they spent most of Friday asking if each subsequent airport was our new house hopefully.

Joshua Boyle speaks to the media after arriving at the Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Photo / AP
Joshua Boyle speaks to the media after arriving at the Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Photo / AP

"Our daughter has had a cursory medical exam last night, and hospital staff were enthusiastically insistent that her chances seemed miraculously high based on a quick physical. Full medical work-ups for each member of my family are being arranged right now, and God-willing the healing process - physically and mentally can begin."

Earlier, on a flight from London, Coleman, who is from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, sat in the business-class cabin wearing a tan headscarf.

She nodded wordlessly as she confirmed her identity to an AP reporter on board. Next to her were her two elder children. In the seat beyond that was Boyle, with their youngest in his lap. US State Department officials accompanied them.

Boyle provided a separate, handwritten statement then expressing disagreement with US foreign policy.

"God has given me and my family unparalleled resilience and determination, and to allow that to stagnate, to pursue personal pleasure or comfort while there is still deliberate and organised injustice in the world would be a betrayal of all I believe, and tantamount to sacrilege," he wrote.

Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle in a militant video given to the family. Photo / AP
Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle in a militant video given to the family. Photo / AP

He nodded toward one of the State Department officials and said, "Their interests are not my interests."

Washington considers the Haqqani group a terrorist organisation and has targeted its leaders with drone strikes. But the Haqqani group also operates like a criminal network. Unlike the Islamic State group, it typically does not execute Western hostages, preferring to ransom them for cash.

A US national security official, who was not authorised to discuss operational details of the release and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the US obtained actionable information, passed it to Pakistani officials, asked them to interdict and recover the hostages - and they did.

President Donald Trump, who previously had warned Pakistan to stop harbouring militants, praised the country for its "co-operation on many fronts".

He said on Twitter that the US is starting to develop "a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders".

The operation appears to have unfolded quickly and ended with the raid, the shootout and a captor's final, terrifying threat to "kill the hostage".

Boyle told his parents that he, his wife and their children were intercepted by Pakistani forces while being transported in the back or trunk of their captors' car and that some of his captors were killed. He suffered only a shrapnel wound, his family said.

US officials did not confirm those details.

A US military official said that a military hostage team had flown to Pakistan Wednesday prepared to fly the family out.

A message from Jim and Lyn Coleman is posted on their home in Stewartstown. Photo / AP
A message from Jim and Lyn Coleman is posted on their home in Stewartstown. Photo / AP

The team did a preliminary health assessment and had a transport plane ready to go, but sometime after daybreak, as the family members were walking to the plane, Boyle said he did not want to board, the official said.

Boyle's father said his son did not want to board the plane because it was headed to Bagram Air Base and the family wanted to return directly to North America. Another US official said Boyle was nervous about being in "custody" given his family ties.

He was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a senior al-Qaida financier. Her father, the late Ahmed Said Khadr, and the family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.

Patrick Boyle, Linda Boyle, Lyn Coleman and Jim Coleman hold photo of their kidnapped children, Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman. Photo / AP
Patrick Boyle, Linda Boyle, Lyn Coleman and Jim Coleman hold photo of their kidnapped children, Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman. Photo / AP

The Canadian-born Omar Khadr was 15 when he was captured by US troops following a firefight and was taken to the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.

Officials had discounted any link between that background and Boyle's capture, with one describing it in 2014 as a "horrible coincidence".

The US Justice Department said neither Boyle nor Coleman was wanted for any federal crime.

US officials have said several other Americans are being held by militant groups in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

They include Kevin King, 60, a teacher at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul who was abducted in August 2016, and Paul Overby, an author in his 70s who disappeared in eastern Afghanistan in 2014.

- additional reporting AP