Hundreds of Afghan prisoners used a 320-meter long tunnel to escape from a prison in the southern province of Kandahar. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the audacious escape operation.
Taliban insurgents took over five months to build the tunnel
Almost 500 Taliban prisoners escaped from a prison in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar early on Monday, after their comrades outside spent months digging an underground tunnel.
The Taliban admitted it was behind the escape operation in the militant organization's southern heartland. It claimed over 100 of those who escaped were senior Taliban members. The tunnel was apparently 320 meters long and took five months to complete.
The jailbreak is seen as evidence of the country's chaotic security situation, and a setback for US forces, who hope to start withdrawing their troops from Afghanistan in the coming months.
Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar province, said a total of 478 prisoners managed to escape due to the "negligence" of Afghan security forces. He said the start of the tunnel had been traced to a house near the prison.
US forces are planning to handover security to control Afghan soldiers by 2014
The Taliban, in its own statement, said that 541 prisoners had escaped through the tunnel. They were later moved in vehicles to safer locations. The escape operation took over four hours.
Police launched a manhunt in and around the provincial capital, and said "a number" of prisoners had been recaptured, although it did not specify a precise figure.
"It is a major setback for the foreign and Afghan troops who have claimed gains against the insurgents recently," Waheed Mujhda, a Kabul-based expert on the Taliban, told Reuters news agency.
Mujhda said it was impossible to dig a tunnel and free that number of prisoners without the collaboration of guards.
Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner