Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kandahar Taliban Escape Bodes Ill for Afghan Fighting Season

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kandahar Taliban Escape Bodes Ill for Afghan Fighting Season

Article excerpt

The audacious escape of nearly 500 militants from a prison in Kandahar city - under the noses of US and Afghan security forces - could help the Taliban in the summer fighting season.

The escape of nearly 500 inmates, most of them Taliban members, from Kandahar's Sarposa prison is likely to push the security of Kandahar and neighboring parts of Afghanistan in a perilous direction.

While the identities of the escapees and their importance to the Taliban is uncertain, the militant group at minimum has received an influx of foot-soldiers at the start of the summer fighting season. It has also demonstrated its ability to plan and execute a brazen operation in a city that is currently the intense focus of US intelligence and counterinsurgency operations.

Taliban members spent five months digging a 400-yard tunnel into the prison on the west side of town, just a mile from the Afghan National Police headquarters. Then more than 480 detainees fled from the political wing of Sarposa prison, which houses militants from the Taliban and other groups. The Taliban claims that 106 commanders are among the fugitives.

"If there are really 100 commanders who got out of prison and they're from Kandahar Province, the multiplying affect of this [will be big]," says Felix Kuehn, an independent researcher in Kandahar. "Each commander, even if they're small-time commanders, will be able to go back to their communities, to their villages, to their social networks and mobilize others. This can have a significant impact on violence."

A jailbreak from Sarposa in June 2008 led to a spike in violence in Kandahar. Hundreds of prisoners, again mostly members of the Taliban, escaped when militants assaulted the prison, killing 16 policemen. The more recent prison break comes amid optimistic statements from Afghan and international forces here who say they've made significant gains against the insurgency.

There are numerous indications that police, prison guards, or Afghan government officials assisted in the breakout. …

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