Hundreds of Taliban fighters tunneled out of an Afghan prison early Monday morning in a mass jailbreak that has embarrassed Afghan authorities and allowed the Taliban to boast of its success on its official website.
More than 500 Taliban fighters escaped in two tunnels dug underneath the Kandahar prison. The main tunnel was nearly 400 meters long and was started on the outside. Suicide vests found near the tunnel were not used, and "dozens" of Afghan guards who worked at the prison, according to a U.S. official, remain unaccounted for.
According to the version of events posted on the Taliban's official website, only three prisoners knew about the escape plan beforehand even though the main tunnel, which passed under a highway and police checkpoints, took nearly five months to build. Inmates began escaping at 11 p.m. Sunday night, said the Taliban, with the last leaving at 3:30 a.m., and Afghan authorities knew nothing until 7:30 a.m.
The Taliban called the jailbreak "a big success," mocked the failure of the security cameras around the prison, and boasted that "the enemy" was caught completely unaware.
"The most astonishing thing throughout the operation," said the statement, "was that all the enemy forces inside the prison ... did not notice the results of the operation even four hours later." The statement also said a "martyrdom-seeking group near the prison" did not need to use their suicide vests "due to the inaction shown by the enemy."
A U.S. military official conceded that the prison break was a "disaster," but noted that the prison is entirely run by Afghans, and that only low-level fighters were housed there. He said that significant or high-value prisoners are routinely moved to U.S. control.
The Taliban said that more than 100 of the escaped prisoners were military commanders, and that all the escaped had been taken away safely by vehicles. Afghan authorities say they have recaptured some of the escapees.
In June 2008, the Taliban sprung hundreds of prisoners from the same facility via an armed attacked on the main entrance. Sixteen Afghan policemen died in the attack.