Taliban militants dug a lengthy tunnel underground and into the main jail in Afghanistan's Kandahar city and whisked out more than 450 prisoners, most of whom were Taliban fighters, officials and insurgents said Monday.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said insurgents dug the 1,050-foot tunnel to Sarposa Prison over five months, bypassing government checkpoints and major roads. The diggers finally poked through to the prison cells Sunday night, and the inmates were ushered through the tunnel to freedom by three prisoners who had been informed of the plan, Mujahid said in a statement.
He said more than 500 inmates were freed and that about 100 of them were Taliban commanders. The prisoners were led through the tunnel over four and a half hours, with the final inmates exiting around 3:30 a.m., all without drawing the attention of prison guards, Mujahid said. The insurgents said they then used a number of vehicles to shuttle the escaped convicts to secure locations.
Four of those who escaped were provincial-level Taliban commanders, said Qari Yousef Ahmadi, another Taliban spokesman
The jailbreak in Afghanistan's second-largest city highlights the Afghan government's continuing weakness in the southern part of the country, despite the focus of the international effort to establish a strong government presence in former Taliban strongholds.
The Sarposa Prison has been part of that plan. The facility has undergone security upgrades and tightened procedures following a brazen 2008 Taliban attack that freed 900 prisoners. Afghan government officials and their NATO backers have regularly said that the prison has vastly improved security since that attack.
"This is a blow," presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said. "A prison break of this magnitude of course points to a vulnerability." He did not provide details on the incident, saying that the investigation had just started
An Afghan government official who is familiar with Sarposa Prison said that while the external security has been greatly improved, the internal controls were not as strong. He said the Taliban prisoners in Sarposa were very united and would rally together to make demands from their jailers for better treatment or more privileges. He spoke anonymously to The Associated Press because he was not authorized to talk to the media.