Senior Taliban, hundreds freed in Afghan jailbreak
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At least 478 prisoners, including many senior Taliban figures, escaped from a prison in Kandahar province on Sunday using a 320-metre-long tunnel into the prison that had been dug over several months.
REUTERS - Insurgents tunnelled into the main jail in Afghanistan’s volatile Kandahar province on Monday, freeing hundreds of prisoners, including many Taliban commanders, a serious setback for U.S. forces who hope to start withdrawing in coming months.
Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar province, said a total of 478 prisoners managed to escape due to “negligence” of Afghan security forces. He said the start of the tunnel had been traced to a house near the prison.
The prison, which is supposed to be one of the country’s most secure, sits on the outskirts of Kandahar city and holds both captured insurgents and criminal prisoners.
The Taliban, in its own statement, said that 541 prisoners escaped through an extensive tunnel that took months to construct, and were later moved in vehicles to safer locations.
“Mujahideen started digging a 320-meter tunnel to the prison from the south side, which was completed after a five-month period, bypassing enemy check posts and (the) Kandahar-Kabul main highway leading directly to the political prison,” the Taliban statement said.
The Taliban said the carefully-targeted tunnel was completed late on Sunday night, with hundreds of insurgents escaping over a four-and-a-half hour period immediately afterwards.
The brazen jailbreak comes months before the start of a transfer of security responsibilities from foreign to Afghan forces in several areas as part of the eventual withdrawal of the U.S-led troops from the country.
Under the transition programme, Afghan forces will begin by taking over from foreign troops in a few areas, but should have control of the whole country by the end of 2014.
Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, is not among the areas listed for the transition of forces in the first stage.
“It is a major setback for the foreign and Afghan troops who have claimed gains against the insurgents recently,” said Waheed Mujhda, a Kabul-based expert on the Taliban.
Mujhda said it was impossible to dig a tunnel and free more than 500 prisoners without the collaboration of guards.
“It is either a case of the jailers being financially motivated and being bribed or a case of them being politically motivated,” he said.
In 2008, Taliban insurgents blew open the gate of the Kandahar prison under cover of darkness, allowing up to a 1,000 inmates to escape including hundreds of Taliban insurgents.
Days after that break, Taliban fighters seized many villages in districts close to Kandahar and appeared to threaten the city itself, with the government sending more than 1,000 extra troops from the north as reinforcements. Nearly 100 Taliban fighters were killed in the ensuing battle.
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