UPDATE: Lord, it gets worse by the minute. From the Guardian’s narrative of the bust-out, one Taliban escapee had this to say:
Suspicions were immediately roused that the escape plot must have enjoyed support and help from prison guards to suceed, but the Taliban escaper doubted it. “They were just sleeping,” he said amidst extended laughter.
“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.”
As many as five hundred Taliban prisoners were busted out of Kandahar’s Sarpoza prison yesterday. The circumstances are quite remarkable: Insurgents spent 50 months digging a 300-metre tunnel from a safe house northeast of the prison. Prison staff only realized what had happened a half hour after the prisoners had escaped.
Like most journalists who have visited Kandahar, I got a tour of Sarpoza last fall. For good reason: After the Taliban blew the front gate and sprung 900 prisoners in 2008, officials from the Correctional Service of Canada based at the provincial reconstruction team at Camp Nathan Smith took the lead in helping rebuild the prison and turn it into something resembling a modern correctional institution. The Canadians were very proud of the work they had done and the relationships they had built with the Warden of the prison, and were keen to show the results off to visitors. As Doug Schmidt of the Windsor Star wrote before Christmas: “Canada has a lot riding on Sarpoza’s success, including about $5 million invested so far in restoring and upgrading the prison and professionalizing its staff.”
I think it is fair to say that this is a major-league disaster. The fabled “fighting season” is just about to get underway, and there are now 500 additional insurgents on the loose in the heart of the city. Canada has pretty much handed the PRT off to the Americans now, but officials from Correctional Services Canada are apparently at Sarpoza today working on “crisis management”. In an almost comical case of shutting the door after the horses have bolted, the Canadian embassy in Kabul would say only that “The Government of Canada is concerned about this incident. We continue to monitor the situation closely.”
For those interested, here are a few pics from my visit.
The prison is divided into two wings, “criminal” and “political” — the criminals are on the left of this courtyard, the politicals on the right:
We got a full tour of the criminal wing, and even got to chat with prisoners and watch them take classes and build skills, like weaving tapestries of Canadian regimental insignia:
We weren’t allowed to visit or talk to the “political” prisoners, aka Taliban. We could snap pics of them through the cellblock bars, though. I imagine these dudes are sipping tea and eating pistachios somewhere in Kandahar City right now.