Taliban militants managed to free roughly 500 of their fellow insurgents from a southern Afghanistan prison overnight Monday thanks to a 1,000-foot-long tunnel the group had dug during the past five months.
The Taliban and local government officials on the ground are providing varying accounts to exactly what happened but both sides appear in agreement that the Taliban managed to pull off the stunning jailbreak in Kandahar without firing a single shot.
In addition to freeing their confederates, the successful caper delivers a black eye to NATO and its Afghan allies who say that international troops are making great strides in handing over more responsibility to Afghan security forces.
The Associated Press:
As the massive jailbreak suggests, the Afghan government remains weak in the south despite an influx of international troops, funding and advisers. Kandahar city, in particular, has been a focus of the international effort to establish a strong Afghan government presence in former Taliban strongholds.
The 1,200-inmate Sarposa prison has been part of that plan. The facility underwent security upgrades and tightened procedures after a brazen 2008 Taliban attack that freed 900 prisoners. In that assault, dozens of militants on motorbikes and two suicide bombers attacked the prison. One suicide bomber set off an explosives-laden tanker truck at the prison gate while a second bomber blew open an escape route through a back wall.
Government officials say that at least 480 inmates escaped from the prison during the most recent jailbreak. The Taliban, meanwhile, pegs the number at more than 500 and says that roughly 100 of the escapees are insurgent commanders, including four former provincial chiefs.
The insurgents were quick to tout their success – and some of the details of the plot – to the press in a statement. According to the Taliban play-by-play: The militants began digging the tunnel about five months ago from a house within shooting range of the prison’s guard towers, weaving the escape route around police checkpoints and major roads. The diggers finally broke through to the prison cells around 11 p.m. Sunday night, at which time a handful of inmates who knew of the plan used keys they had obtained from “friends” on the inside to unlock the cells.