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Sat, Jun 14th - 9:21AM

390 Taliban freed from prison in stunning attack

Yesterday Taliban militants led a a stunning multi-pronged attack with rockets, suicide bombers, and an explosives-filled truck blew open the Kandahar prison where NATO detainees are held.

With hundreds of inmates having escaped — one estimate was as high as 1,100, including almost 400 pro-Taliban militants — the Canadian military was trying to assess the damage.

Every Saturday, the Kandahar military compound is home to a weekly bazaar where local merchants set up shop in an area half the size of a football field.

As the adult men hawk carpets, jewelry, clothes, and DVDs, the children tug on soldiers’ sleeves to lure them into their parents’ stalls.

But this week loudspeakers at Kandahar Airfield blared out a terse message that declared this week’s bazaar is cancelled.

A Canadian soldier muttered that the brazen assault on Sarposa would be a monumental public-relations coup for the Taliban. He said it’s not only families of the escaped insurgents who will be grateful, but also of the common criminals who fled to freedom.

Just months ago, the Canadian government resumed prisoner transfers after suspending them because of documented detainee abuse by Afghan officials.

Inmates at Sarposa described having been whipped, choked, and electrocuted in separate detention facilities run by Afghanistan’s feared intelligence police.

The police chief of Kandahar province, Sayed Agha Saqib, said 390 Taliban prisoners were among 870 inmates who fled the prison during the attack late Friday.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force estimates the number of escapees at 1,100, said spokesman Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco.

He conceded that the assault was a success.

“We admit it,” Branco said. “Their guys did the job properly in that sense."

The complex attack included a truck bombing at the main gate, a suicide bomber who struck a back wall and rockets fired from inside the prison courtyard, setting off a series of explosions that rattled Kandahar, the country’s second-biggest city.

More than 30 nearby shops were damaged.

The rockets demolished an upper prison floor, said Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai, a deputy minister at the Justice Ministry. Nine police were killed in the attack, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.

There were no indications that the militants received help from the inside, but as a precaution the prison’s chief official, Abdul Qabir, was placed under investigation for possible involvement, Hashimzai said.

The Taliban said 30 insurgents on motorbikes and two suicide bombers attacked the prison.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told The Associated Press that militants had been planning the assault for the last two months ``to release our Taliban friends.”

“Today we succeeded,” he said. The escaped prisoners “are safe in town and they are going to their homes.”

One of the militants who escaped, Abdul Nafai, called an Associated Press reporter and claimed the insurgents had minibuses waiting outside the prison during the attack and that dozens of militants fled in the vehicles.

Other witnesses and officials said the militants fled on foot into pomegranate and grape groves behind the prison.

Branco doesn’t think the addition of the 400 escaped Taliban fighters will tilt the military balance.

“OK, they got some more fighters, more shooters,” Branco said. ``(But) These guys who escaped from the prison are not going to change the operational tempo and they do not provide the Taliban with operational initiative.” But it does change the public relations for the Taliban.

While the outlying areas have been home to frequent firefights, Kandahar city had been considered a relative haven.

The attack raised another question for NATO: With Sarposa now in partial ruins, what will Canada and other countries do with the insurgents they capture?

The Politics eZine


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