The daring jail break in Kandahar Province on Monday that freed about 500 fighters indicates that the Taliban remains influential in the south despite setbacks they have faced, and calls into question the ability of Afghanistan's security forces to assume security responsibilities once the U.S. and NATO troops begin withdrawing this summer. The escape comes after a spate of assassinations and spectacular attacks on government institutions in recent days, including one inside the Ministry of Defense in Kabul last week.
The media and political and military experts in Afghanistan have been scathing about the government's incompetence and warn that the freed fighters will strengthen the Taliban at a time when the insurgent group is preparing for their spring and summer offensives. Many called the incident "an inside job," arguing that the Taliban's five-month project to dig a 360-meter tunnel into the prison would not have gone unnoticed without the complicity of local officials. The initial findings of Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice also suggest that the escape was made possible with "inside help and facilitation from the prison."
Military analyst Abdul Hadi Khaliq warns that the escapees are "radicalized, ready-to-fight, and extremist" fighters. "This shows that the Kandahar government is paralyzed or has made a deal with the enemy. Either way, major changes need to be made in Kandahar. The Kandahar authorities must be punished, not rewarded as in the past," Khaliq argues, referring to a previous Taliban prison break in Kandahar three years ago.
Cheragh Daily also alleges that local authorities were complicit in the jail break. "Even if digging the tunnel was not a scenario to free the terrorists from prison as concessions to [Taliban] leaders, we cannot rule out involvement of powerbrokers and influential hands in the incident." Ridiculing Hamid Karzai's conciliatory approach to the Taliban, the paper asks the president to explain whether the escapees were "foreign elements" or "dissatisfied brothers." The paper warns that all escapees will "return to their trenches and continue to kill defenseless Afghan people and troops." Afghan daily Hasht-e Sobh writes that the escape of Taliban fighters could "boost the morale of the Taliban and weaken the confidence of security forces."
Daily Afghanistan says the Afghan government has lost credibility and is riddled with corruption and bribery. To mask its incompetence, the paper writes, the government resorts to "complicated and dangerous" policies, referring to the government's "one-sided" reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. It alleges that the Taliban and foreign intelligence agencies have infiltrated the "senior ranks of the security apparatus."
Mohammad Sarwar Usmani, a lawmaker from Farah Province, also implicates local authorities and warns that the enemies' growing infiltration into the security forces is dangerous. Usmani calls on the Karzai government to stop releasing Taliban prisoners through the High Peace Council. The council has recently asked the United States to release Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo jail, including top Taliban leader Khairullah Khairkhah. "If Khairkhah wants to make peace, we will welcome him. We will make contacts and discuss his release," Karzai told journalist in Kabul recently. Usmani, however, argues that Taliban fighters freed from jail rejoin the terrorists and their release has had no effect on the prospect for peace.Ahmad K. Majidyar is a senior research associate at AEI.