Four 'dangerous' militants escape from Afghan jail

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The al-Jazeera television network said those who escaped yesterday were al-Qa'ida members, and Afghan sources said that they were Arabs, but American forces refused to confirm either report, describing them only as "dangerous enemy combatants". Lt-Col Jerry O'Hara said: "We consider this very serious business. These guys are dangerous not only to Afghanistan but to the world."

A jailbreak from Bagram is a serious failure for American forces. It is not only the US military's main base, it also serves as the jail where all al-Qa'ida suspects are interrogated before they are transferred to Guantanamo Bay. The base is the most heavily guarded site in Afghanistan, and the prisoners would have had to get through several checkpoints to reach freedom.

Col O'Hara said: "I can't give specifics on how they escaped. The circumstances are under investigation as we speak."

US forces have suffered several serious setbacks in Afghanistan recently. Last month, 16 Special Forces commandos were killed when their helicopter was shot down by Taliban forces in eastern Konar province. They were on a mission to rescue four Navy Seal commandos stranded in the area. But only one commando was found alive; the other three were all killed.

In May, the US military's own investigation found that at least two Afghan prisoners were tortured to death by American guards at Bagram, although interrogators believed that one of them had no connections to al-Qa'ida or the Taliban, and had been arrested by mistake.