Nato's instant response to Kandahar jailbreak

When the Taliban broke more than 750 prisoners out of jail this summer, in one of the most spectacular attacks in living memory, Nato's response was instant but invisible.

Senior commanders scrambled every drone they could spare as prisoners poured out of Kandahar jail.



The closest Nato garrison had hunkered down inside their base, afraid of more attacks, as prisoners poured into the night.



But commanders at nearby Kandahar Airfield watched live pictures of the anarchy, from the comfort of their operations room, as wave after wave of escapees began marching east, to sanctuaries in Pakistan.



A fleet of Predator drones criss-crossed the skies some 35,000 feet above Afghanistan's second city, flying throughout the night and long into the next morning, as rag-tag columns of men made good their escape.



Some of the prisoners went straight to Arghandab, just outside the city, where they fought with Nato troops a few days later. But most of the 400 Taliban, who were among the 750 inmates freed, fled back to Pakistan - beyond the reach of Nato's force. Or so they thought.



International troops are using drones to patrol Pakistani airspace in a bid to monitor insurgents on both sides of the border.



"We wanted to see where the prisoners went," said one official in Kabul, hinting that the fugitives had betrayed their hideouts when they fled.



It is an open secret that armed Predator drones, operated by the CIA, are flying routine fire missions inside Pakistan against Al Qa'ida leaders.



Islamabad insists it will never sanction American soldiers on its soil, but senior Nato officials insist the drones are there with tacit, if sometimes strained, consent of Pakistani officials.



The most notable example of a drone attack came last January, when a missile from a Predator hit a terrorist safe house in Waziristan, killing Abu Laith al-Libi, the man accused of plotting an attack against Bagram airbase, when US vice president Dick Cheney was visiting. That attack,in the Pakistani tribal region of Bajaur, targeted and missed al-Qaida's number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.



At the end of last month, a drone operating in northwestern Pakistan pinpointed al Qa'ida's chemical engineer, Abu Khabab al-Masri, who was a key figure in the group's production of chemical weapons and conventional explosives. Al Qa'ida has confirmed the death of the operative who was killed by a missile, along with five other people. He had earlier been reported as having been killed in the attack last January and had a $5m reward on his head.



Nato sources continually blame Pakistan for a surge in Afghan violence this year, and growing frustration at Pakistan's failure to tackle the Taliban on their side of the border has prompted talk of Nato operations against the insurgents on both sides of the Durrand line.



"The CIA already conducts operations in partnership with the Pakistanis," said a senior Nato official in Kabul. "Nato would like to have the same relationship with Pakistan."



The drones watch and log the movements of senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas. Unlike the presence of special forces, they carry far less political risk.



Most of them are flown from an airbase in America, and if they crash - which has happened - they don't create "friendly" body bags.



The Taliban claim they can hear the tell tale buzz of unmanned aerial vehicles, of UAVs, before an attack. But most of the time they circle too high to be beard or seen, beaming back images of whatever's going on below. They only swoop lower when they want to fire, or take a closer look.



The army call drones their "unblinking eye," and they rely on them for almost all their major operations. One senior airborne officer told The Independent there was no doubt the aircraft had saved British lives.



"They are so good," he said, "they are the first thing we ask for when we plan an operation.



"The big thing is that they help us at the lowest tactical level. They find information, that which allows us to make decisions."



Moments before soldiers storm compounds or search houses, drones relay messages to their commanders warning them how many fighters to expect, and what weapons they have.



On a search operation in Helmand, against a suspected bomb factory, drones directed troops to return to a compound they had already searched, after it spotted bodies hiding in a nearby treeline.



Smaller versions of the predator are flown from Kandahar and Camp Bastion. The British hired a model plane enthusiast to help them take off and land, while even smaller drones - the size of remote controlled toy planes - are flown by artillery troops from the forward operating bases scattered across the provinces.



But the information is not always fool proof. America is once again investigating claims its warplanes killed 89 civilians in an airstrike in Herat last week. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has fired two senior Afghan officers for their role in the attack.



There's little doubt the US Special Forces who called in the airstrike were relying, in part, on information from a drone that was watching the Taliban commander they were hoping to arrest.



It's just possible that the "thorough battle damage assessment" that American officials said proved that they had only killed insurgents was also done by a drone. President Hamid Karzai disagrees, and the Americans have, reluctantly, launched an investigation.



Perhaps more telling, is that three months after the great jail break, not one of the fugitive prisoners has been arrested.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin