In the early hours in the morning on Monday, April 25, 2011, at least 480 Taliban prisoners escaped.
According to people involved in the break-out, the Taliban’s great escape began with a team of 18 insurgents on the outside spending five months burrowing hundreds of metres underground through the brown soil west of Kahandar city and into Sarpoza prison, taking their tunnel right into the prison’s political section where hundreds of Taliban were held.
The starting point was a compound directly opposite the prison that from the outside looked like any one of hundreds of building companies that have popped up in areas awash with reconstruction dollars.
According to one of the escapees, the tunnel was of sufficient diameter and high enough for the prisoners to stand upright for most of their walk to freedom. Sections were lit by electric light and ventilated with fans, he said.
One official who visited the prison said the tunnel had two exits, and that the second branch led to a wing of the prison housing ordinary criminals. For whatever reason, that equally grand escape did not come off.
“I only found out that we were going to escape at midnight,” the 28-year-old insurgent, who did not give his name, said during a phone interview with the Guardian.
The man, who had served three years of five-year sentence for fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan, said that a mere 20 minutes later he and his cellmates were taken to the entrance of the tunnel, a hole in the concrete floor that dropped down five feet to the tunnel passage itself.
When the escapee prisoners got to the construction company compound at the end of the tunnel, they were met by their commanders and taken off in cars to safe locations.
From about 11pm to 3.30am, cell after cell of prisoners trooped through the passageway to freedom.
The unfortunate guard who came into the wing first thing on Monday morning was confronted with an entirely empty building, save for prison clothes, shoes and turbans that the inmates had for some reason left behind.
“The guards are always drunk. Either they smoke heroin or marijuana, and then they just fall asleep. During the whole process no one checked, there was no patrols, no shooting or anything.”
The prison break also comes just weeks after a Taliban suicide bomber succeeded in blowing up Kandahar’s police chief, and another came close to killing Afghanistan’s defence chief in the heart of his sprawling ministry in Kabul.
But for the Taliban escapee enjoying freedom for the first time in three years, an experience he compared to the Islamic festival of Eid, there was a belief that the government would not recover from its display of ineptitude.
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Jon Boone in Kabul
guardian.co.uk | Monday 25 April 2011 19.38 BST