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KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Special Operations Forces and Afghan commandos freed the kidnapped son of Pakistan’s former prime minister on Tuesday morning, three years after he was abducted by insurgents, government officials said.

Ali Haider Gilani, son of former Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, was recovered in a joint raid in Giyan district of Paktika province, which borders Pakistan, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Dawlat Waziri said.

U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement that four “enemy combatants” were killed in the operation. Waziri said the four were members of al-Qaida.

The raid was conducted under the authority of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel — the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan — the USFOR-A statement said. The mission was planned and launched after evidence of terrorist activity was confirmed, it said.

The operation was “to go after al-Qaida-related targets in the area, and there was an indication that there may have been a hostage being held with them,” USFOR-A spokesman Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland said, The Associated Press reported.

Gilani, who is reported to be in his 30s, was taken to Bagram Air Field and was to be transferred to Pakistan after a medical checkup, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul said.

“This is a very big achievement and we are very much thankful ... and appreciate the effort of Afghan and foreign security forces,” embassy spokesman Akhtar Munir said.

The former prime minister, who served from 2008 to 2013, said last year that the kidnappers had demanded the release of several al-Qaida prisoners in exchange for his son.

Gilani’s secular Pakistan People’s Party was vehemently opposed to the Taliban and mounted several military campaigns against the insurgents.

The younger Gilani was abducted in his Pakistani hometown of Multan in southern Punjab province on May 9, 2013, days before a national election in which he was running.

“Good news for Mr. Gilani’s parents, the government of Afghanistan has safely handed him over to the Embassy of Pakistan in Kabul,” said a message posted to the official Twitter account of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday afternoon.

“When we first heard the news, we didn’t believe it and only believed it once the foreign office confirmed it,” Ali Musa Gilani, a brother of the younger Gilani, said on Pakistani TV, according to Reuters. “Right now, we don’t have any plans to celebrate. We are just waiting to see his face.”

During his captivity, the family spoke to him only once during an eight-minute phone call, according to media reports.

“My son Ali Haider Gilani told me that he is happy and safe at (an) unknown place,” his father said after the phone call, according to Geo TV.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a statement expressing relief over the rescue while the current leader of the People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said on Twitter that the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad first called the elder Gilani to tell him about his son.

The Pakistani Taliban, who are not directly affiliated with the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, have battled the government in Islamabad since 2007. They are demanding the introduction of strict Islamic law, or sharia, in the border regions.

Zubair Babakarkhail and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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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