500 Taliban escape in brazen Afghan jailbreak

Published: April 26, 2011

An Afghan policeman sits next to the tunnel dug for the escape. PHOTO: AFP

KANDAHAR: 

Hundreds of prisoners escaped from a jail in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar on Monday through a tunnel dug by Taliban insurgents, officials said, calling it a “disaster” for the Afghan government and a setback for foreign forces planning to start a gradual withdrawal within months.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s chief spokesperson told a news conference that the incident, in which many Taliban commanders were said to have escaped, exposed serious vulnerabilities in the Afghan government.

“This is a blow, it is something that should not have happened. We are looking into finding out … what exactly happened and what is being done to compensate for the disaster that happened in the prison,” spokesman Waheed Omer said.

Kadahar Governor Tooryalai Wesa told Reuters that 488 prisoners escaped due to the negligence of Afghan security forces at the province’s main jail, touted as one of the most secure in Afghanistan. He said the tunnel led to a nearby house.

General Ghulam Dastgir, the governor in charge of the jail, said the prisoners had all escaped through the tunnel. “The Taliban have planted bombs inside the tunnel and it is hard to investigate until the explosives are removed,” he said.

Later on Monday, reporters were taken into the prison to view the opening of the tunnel in one of the cell blocks.

Reuters photographs showed a hole, several feet deep, cut into the concrete floor of one of the cells. The hole, big enough to allow one man to climb down at a time, appeared to be connected to a tunnel.

The Taliban said in a statement 541 prisoners escaped through the tunnel which took months to construct, and were later moved in vehicles to safer locations.

It said the prisoners escaped over a four-and-a-half hour period during the night, meaning more than 100 prisoners an hour would have had to crawl out through a tunnel barely large enough to fit one man.

“Mujahideen started digging a 320-metre tunnel to the prison from the south side, which was completed after a five-month period, bypassing enemy checkposts and the Kandahar-Kabul main highway leading directly to the political prison,” the Taliban statement said.

“They moved people in several groups. They had a comfortable period of time to move that many people. It’s obviously very worrying with the timing around fighting season,” said a foreign official in Kandahar with knowledge of the incident.

Wesa said of the 488 who had escaped, 13 were ordinary criminals and the rest were insurgents. Only 26 prisoners had so far been recaptured and two had been killed in a gunfight with security forces, he said.

“It is either a case of the jailers being financially motivated and being bribed, or a case of them being politically motivated,” said Waheed Mujhda, a Kabul-based analyst and expert on the Taliban.

Justice Ministry spokesman Farid Ahmad Najibi said he could not rule out the possibility guards had helped in the escape.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2011.

Reader Comments (7)

  • John
    Apr 26, 2011 - 9:37AM

    Other reports indicate that jailers were also involved and some of them did not turn up for work.

    Hard to imagine that tunnel of this size spanning nearly a kilometer with so much excavation of earth go unnoticed for five months without some degree of cooperation with corrupt Afghan police.

    Reminds me of WW II movie “The Great Escape”. Digging is the easy part. Getting rid of the dug out dirt is the hard part and in this case it must be a mountain.

    Besides the precision with which they reached the cell indicates some degree of coordination from the inside.

    Those who tried digging a ditch above ground in straight line will appreciate the difficulty. Digging underground requires coordination of geometry, direction and accurate measurement.

    If only these guys use this acumen for something better, where will Afghanistan be?Recommend

  • Hassan
    Apr 26, 2011 - 12:41PM

    Makes you think about the so called success against the Taliban with this Afghan Army in charge!!!!Recommend

  • A J Khan
    Apr 26, 2011 - 1:24PM

    Story of “The great Escape” has been repeated, but unlike the film in which majority of the POWs were recaptured including the “The Cooler King”, Steve Mc Queen, here majority rather all of them have escaped like Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski DSC DFC RAF, “The Tunnel King” played by Charles Bronson.
    Lets hope some one in Hollywood will make a masterpiece movie on thisRecommend

  • Maulana Diesel
    Apr 26, 2011 - 4:36PM

    Wow – I am impressed. Its interesting that all the failures in Afghanistan are blamed on either Karzai or the Afghan army. No one dares question the Americans or NATO. Except all the Allied forces know well is how to kill civilians. Recommend

  • John
    Apr 26, 2011 - 5:27PM

    @A J Khan:
    The movie is coming. Who would resist it. All we need is a good ending, and a good beginning. otherwise the movie will be boring. Recommend

  • Uzair
    Apr 26, 2011 - 6:12PM

    @Maulana Diesel:

    It was not entirely Americas fault or even NATO’s fault. They put the responsibility on Afghanistan. In order for them to successfully leave Afghanistan, they have to know that they can handle this stuff by themselves. Recommend

  • bvindh
    Apr 27, 2011 - 12:07PM

    @John:

    If only these guys use this acumen for
    something better, where will
    Afghanistan be?

    Destruction is very easy and will make total fools look like heroes and geniuses. The moment they start building something they will be found to be inadequate.Recommend

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