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Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan's former prime minister, shakes hands with officials at the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul on May 11, 2016, where he was turned over to Pakistan's ambassador the day after a joint U.S.-Afghan operation rescued him from al-Qaida captors who had held him for three years.

Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan's former prime minister, shakes hands with officials at the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul on May 11, 2016, where he was turned over to Pakistan's ambassador the day after a joint U.S.-Afghan operation rescued him from al-Qaida captors who had held him for three years. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan's former prime minister, shakes hands with officials at the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul on May 11, 2016, where he was turned over to Pakistan's ambassador the day after a joint U.S.-Afghan operation rescued him from al-Qaida captors who had held him for three years.

Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan's former prime minister, shakes hands with officials at the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul on May 11, 2016, where he was turned over to Pakistan's ambassador the day after a joint U.S.-Afghan operation rescued him from al-Qaida captors who had held him for three years. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan's former prime minister, in camouflage hat, speaks to reporters along with Pakistani and Afghan officials at the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul on May 11, 2016. Gilani was turned over to Pakistan's ambassador the day after a joint U.S.-Afghan operation rescued him from al-Qaida captors who had held him for three years.

Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan's former prime minister, in camouflage hat, speaks to reporters along with Pakistani and Afghan officials at the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul on May 11, 2016. Gilani was turned over to Pakistan's ambassador the day after a joint U.S.-Afghan operation rescued him from al-Qaida captors who had held him for three years. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Afghan soldiers pose in front of an Mi-17 helicopter that delivered Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan's former prime minister, to the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul on May 11, 2016. Gilani was turned over to Pakistan's ambassador the day after a joint U.S.-Afghan special forces raid in which he was rescued from al-Qaida captors who had held him for three years.

Afghan soldiers pose in front of an Mi-17 helicopter that delivered Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan's former prime minister, to the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul on May 11, 2016. Gilani was turned over to Pakistan's ambassador the day after a joint U.S.-Afghan special forces raid in which he was rescued from al-Qaida captors who had held him for three years. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials on Wednesday morning delivered the son of Pakistan’s former prime minister to that country’s ambassador in Kabul after a joint U.S.-Afghan special forces operation rescued him from his al-Qaida captors near the Pakistani border on Tuesday.

Ali Haider Gilani had been held for three years after gunmen kidnapped him in his hometown Multan in Pakistan’s southern Punjab province in May 2013. His father, Yusuf Raza Gilani, served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012.

“At this point, I’m just looking forward to being reunited with my family and getting back to normal life,” he told reporters at the Afghan Defense Ministry in front of the helicopter that brought him to Kabul.

He had spent the night at a military base undergoing medical checkups and was expected to be flown home to Pakistan later in the day.

The younger Gilani, wearing a camouflage ball cap, shook hands with Afghan military officials and hugged Pakistan’s ambassador, Syed Abrar Hussain. He thanked “the Almighty and all those that fought for my release,” the U.S. forces for medical care he received after his rescue, and the Afghan government and army for the rescue.

“It’s a great day today,” Hussain said.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday commended the joint raid in a statement and said it is an excellent example of the U.S.-Afghan intelligence sharing and security partnership. Carter said the operation “demonstrates the growing capabilities and effectiveness of the Afghan security forces.”

“Working alongside our Afghan partners, we will continue to make it clear that there is no safe haven for terrorists in Afghanistan,” he added.

The raid in Paktika province that led to Ali Haider Gilani’s release began as a mission to capture or kill al-Qaida targets, said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. They did not know the terrorist cell was holding Gilani, and the operation was not intended to be a hostage rescue mission, he said.

“The mission for a capture-kill is a different profile than you typically do for a hostage rescue,” Cleveland said. “There’s a different preparation and everything else.”

The al-Qaida members were leaving a compound when a team of “less than 100” special forces soldiers enveloped them, he said. “There was a bit of a small engagement,” Cleveland said. “Those who resisted were killed. He’s (Gilani) the guy who didn’t resist and kind of went the opposite direction and he was the noncombatant.”

Cleveland confirmed that four al-Qaida members were killed in the operation.

As Gilani left the landing pad he gave a thumbs-up to one of the armed U.S. servicemembers in civilian attire and body armor. The American returned the gesture with a smile.

garland.chad@stripes.com

Twitter: @chadgarland

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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