The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Hundreds of Taliban escape from Kandahar prison

Jailbreak In what Afghan government spokesman Waheed Omar called a "disaster," at least 476 prisoners escaped yesterday from Kandahar’s Sarposa prison, after an audacious nighttime operation by the Taliban that reportedly involved the digging of a 320-meter tunnel underneath the Kabul-Kandahar highway and the involvement of three prisoners who were previously informed of the escape ...

STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images
STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

Jailbreak

In what Afghan government spokesman Waheed Omar called a "disaster," at least 476 prisoners escaped yesterday from Kandahar’s Sarposa prison, after an audacious nighttime operation by the Taliban that reportedly involved the digging of a 320-meter tunnel underneath the Kabul-Kandahar highway and the involvement of three prisoners who were previously informed of the escape plans (NYT, AP, Guardian, BBC, AJE, Pajhwok, CNN, AFP). Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told journalists in an email that the tunnel took five months to build and freed 541 prisoners, including 106 Taliban commanders, while another spokesman claimed the escaped detainees included four provincial commanders (AP). Sarposa, which is under Afghan control, was the site of a massive prison break in 2008 in which nearly 900 inmates escaped (WSJ).

The Taliban claim that the operation, which they said involved suicide bombers ready to distract prison guards if necessary, took place in total secret, though Afghan experts speculated that the Taliban likely had assistance from prison guards (Reuters). Afghan officials say at least 13 prisoners had already been rounded up (AP, Pajhwok).

Taliban attackers killed a member of Helmand’s peace council and former district chief of Marjah, Haji Zahir, yesterday in Lashkar Gah, as Helmandi elders cautioned that targeted killings could disrupt the reconciliation process in the province (Pajhwok, AP, Pajhwok). In Kapisa, a NATO helicopter crashed, killing one coalition soldier (AP). Two Afghan police were killed in an ambush in the eastern Nangarhar province (AP). A senior Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) figure, Qari Bilal, has reportedly been captured in the northern city of Kunduz (Pajhwok). The Dubai-based Alokozay group is reportedly considering buying the troubled Kabul Bank (AP). And Afghan police are reportedly cracking down on the illegal sale of Afghan military and police uniforms (NYT).

Three features round out the weekend in Afghanistan: the New York Times goes to eastern Paktika province, where residents are fearful of both coalition forces and the Taliban (NYT); Ron Moreau interviews teenage Taliban recruits at a Pakistani refugee camp run by Afghan insurgent Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (Newsweek); and the Times goes to two schools built by Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, one large and busy, the other unused (NYT).

Stopped-up

Pakistani cricket star turned politician Imran Khan staged a two-day "sit-in" on the outskirts of Peshawar this weekend to protest U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, temporarily blocking one of the major supply routes for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan (AP, AFP, AJE, Independent, The News, Reuters, Dawn). Khan, who arrived Saturday in Peshawar at the head of a convoy, said the campaign would continue until its "logical conclusion" and announced yesterday that if drone strikes were not stopped within 30 days, protesters would block all of the major supply routes into Afghanistan (ET, Dawn, CNN). Khan also called on Pakistan’s leaders to admit to their authorization of drone strikes, and said that if the drones are not stopped he will march on Islamabad. Bonus read: Choking off U.S.-Pakistan relations? (FP).

The protests, which drew several thousand people instead of the 100,000 predicted by Khan and workers from his Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, ended yesterday, and supply routes through Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province will be open today, with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials saying the blockage did not affect ISAF operations (The News, Daily Times, AFP). On Friday outlets said that U.S. military and intelligence personnel had left the Shamsi Air Base in Baluchistan, a reported staging area for drones, though American officials disputed that claim (The News, CNN, McClatchy, CNN).

Stormy Monday

The anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks released a trove of files related to the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay yesterday, including a 2007 guide to interrogations at the prison that links between detainees and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) should be considered "an indication of terrorist or insurgent activity" on the same level as links with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, and Hezbollah (Guardian). The documents also reportedly reveal new information about official Pakistani links to insurgent and terrorist activities in Afghanistan and Pakistani training of Afghan fighters for terrorist attacks and assassinations of Westerners, as well as the cooperation between the ISI and Western intelligence services. For more coverage of the WikiLeaks Guantanamo files, see NYT, Washington Post, McClatchy, Guardian, Telegraph, Le MondeEl Pais, and Der Spiegel

A suicide bomber killed four military and tribal officials in Bajaur agency on Saturday, including the head of the Salarzai tribe, Malik Manasib Khan, who had raised an anti-Taliban lashkar in the area (AFP, ET). Another bomb in Bajaur killed a "security officer," while a child was killed in Hangu when a bomb exploded in front of an anti-Taliban tribal leader’s house (AJE, ET). The attacks came after Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said in a speech that the Pakistan army had broken the "backbone" of militants in Pakistan (AP). Pakistani forces reportedly killed five militants in ongoing operations in Orakzai agency on Saturday (ET). And an explosion ripped through the armory of the Gulbahar police station in Peshawar this morning, though the cause was not immediately apparent (ET).

Soda wars

Pepsi Cola has inked an "Exclusive Bottling Arrangement" worth $60m to produce Pepsi at a bottling plant in Kabul (Tel). The deal, finalized in Dubai, will reportedly create 3,000 local jobs.

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Andrew Lebovich is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a doctoral candidate in African history at Columbia University. He is currently based in Senegal and has conducted field research in Niger and Mali.

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