Taliban prison escape is 'a disaster'

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The Independent Online

The escape of hundreds of Taliban prisoners from an Afghan jail is a "disaster", a Foreign Office minister said today.

A total of 476 inmates, including insurgent commanders, fled through a tunnel from Sarposa prison outside Kandahar early yesterday.

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt today told the Commons a handful had previously been arrested by British troops.

He said: "This is a significant event, a disaster in security terms."

Mr Burt said the freed inmates were originally captured "at great cost to all who were involved".

He believed troops who caught the insurgents had been "let down" by yesterday's prison break, adding: "There must be an investigation so we find out what happened.

"We must get to the bottom of it and the security system must be tightened."

Mr Burt said up to five of the 476 who fled were "originally UK detainees who were passed into the Afghanistan system".

But he claimed transferring power and responsibility to the Afghans was important because there "was not another answer to the security".

Mr Burt said: "Afghans themselves must be responsible ultimately for their own security and safety."

Mr Burt told MPs: "This is a serious event which vividly underlines the importance of building a secure prison sector in Afghanistan."

The jail was being controlled by officials from the Central Prisons Directorate of the Afghan Ministry of Justice when inmates fled at 4am yesterday, escaping through a hole dug by Taliban comrades.

The 1,180ft passage led to a house occupied by insurgents who spent five months digging the tunnel into the prison compound.

Afghan troops and police were today combing surrounding hideouts to recapture the escapees, as Mr Burt answered an urgent question on the jailbreak from senior Labour backbencher Paul Flynn.

Mr Flynn (Newport West) said: "The valiant professionalism of our soldiers in Afghanistan is as distinguished as any in our proud military history,

"They deserve our gratitude. They also deserve our vigilance to protect them against avoidable risks."

Mr Flynn added: "Many of those who escaped were captured originally at grievous cost in blood and treasure. Now hundreds are liberated to attack our soldiers again."

He accused Afghan security services of being "endemically corrupt, inept and, probably in this case, infiltrated by the Taliban", adding: "Their loyalty is often for sale."

Mr Flynn said the British Government was trying to build an Afghan army and police force on "rotten, corrupt foundations" and urged them to pull UK troops out of the war-torn country, abandoning its "misplaced trust" in the Afghan authorities.

"Optimism and trust become naivety when we don't know who to trust," he said.