In 2008, there was a massive prison break in Kandahar. Something like 900 inmates escaped, most of whom were Taliban figures. The Canadians came in for particular blame here, as they took two hours to arrive at the prison after the breakout occurred, and were accused of refusing to re-capture the prisoners while watching the prisoners flee.
Eventually, the prisoners of Sarpoza fled to the Arghandab—this was when the ARV was pretty quiet and Kandaharis went there on vacation—and sparked an epic battle for control of the area after the Taliban seized something like eighteen separate towns in the area.
Of course, NATO was never able to dislodge the Taliban from the area. And I’m not even sure what happened to most of the escapees, though I do know quite a few were recaptured. Anyway, I think they escaped again?
The inmates escaped through a nearly 400-yard tunnel they had spent six months digging, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said.
The escape at the prison, which holds 1,200 inmates, began after dark and finished just before daybreak, said Maj. Tim James, a spokesman for NATO forces in Kabul.
I’m not going to speculate about how they were able to dig an 1,100 foot tunnel without anyone noticing. Weirder prison escapes have been attempted, including, most awesomely, The Great Escape. But in all likelihood at least one of the prison guards was aware this escape was happening and they chose to become complicit in it in some way—just another example of the lousy personnel screening in the Afghan security forces.
We still don’t have a list of who the escapees were, and if they were important or involved in the 2008 escape or not. One figure claims 106 of them are Taliban commanders, which may or may not be real (or affect the happy ISAF narrative that they’re removing mid-level commanders from the battlefield).
What we can be certain of is that this will have dramatic consequences. The 2008 break resulted in a huge uptick in area violence, and the first of many failed NATO attempts to “retake” the countryside surrounding Kandahar City. Those attempts are, by and large, still ongoing (though they didn’t begin with the 2008 escape). We can expect something similar. Given the coordination required to dig this tunnel and organize a massive breakout, we can also expect the escapees will have more opportunities to hide and go underground.
It’s really difficult to see this break as anything other than disaster. But at least we now know who really has the momentum in the South. Unfortunately, it’s not us.