fighters have carried out a mass jailbreak in the central Afghan city of Ghazni, freeing hundreds of prisoners and leaving security officials with the uncomfortable job of explaining how such an incident could happen once again.
The Taliban attacked the prison at 2am on Monday, firing rocket-propelled grenades at the watchtowers and sending a suicide bomber in a Toyota Corolla to blow himself up outside the prison gates, according to Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, Ghazni’s deputy governor.
Six Taliban fighters disguised in police uniforms stormed the prison grounds and freed 355 prisoners, 148 of them insurgents charged with national and international security crimes, the interior ministry said. The jail held a total of 436 prisoners.
The ministry said four police officers were killed and another seven wounded. On Twitter, the Taliban’s spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said three insurgents died in the attack.
The jailbreak appears to have been carefully planned. Ahmadi, the deputy governor, said that prior to storming the prison the insurgents attacked various locations in the city to divert security forces. He said the Taliban scattered mines around the prison to hold reinforcements at bay.
The interior ministry lauded the police for acting swiftly , but locals in Ghazni were frustrated. “The officials know what their job is, but they are not doing it,” said Abdul Qayum Hasanyar, 49, a Ghazni resident. “If they don’t want to do their job, they should resign. I worry that one day the province will fall to the Taliban but no one is doing anything. The future is very dark.”
It is not the first time the Taliban have staged a breakout on this scale. In two jailbreaks in Kandahar in 2008 and 2011, the Taliban freed 800 and 500 prisoners respectively. In 2012, insurgents helped about 30 prisoners to flee from a prison in Sar-i Pul.
Monday’s jailbreak illustrates the challenges of keeping volatile provinces such as Ghazni safe in the wake of last year’s drawdown of international troops. The jail held a large number of prisoners charged with threatening national security, and the province has long been tormented by violence and kidnappings, especially of members of the Hazara minority.
Afghanistan’s security forces continue to fight across the country, but morale is said to be low and casualties are at record levels, up more than 50% on last year.
At a time when a fierce power struggle is rupturing the Taliban following the in July of the death of their leader, Mullah Omar, the group’s leadership is looking for successful operations to ignite fighting spirit and shore up support for Omar’s heir apparent, Mullah Akhtar Mansour. The Ghazni jailbreak may serve as a morale boost.