Prison break may cause problems in field: general
Published Saturday, June 14, 2008 11:07PM EDT
Canadian soldiers are helping to catch hundreds of Taliban fighters who escaped from an Afghan prison, but a top general says the setback may still lead to problems for troops in the field.
Gen. Denis Thompson, the Canadian commandeer in Afghanistan, said local authorities are taking charge of hunting down the fugitives, while Canadian soldiers provide them with intelligence.
He said the prison break could have a long-term impact on Canada's mission in Afghanistan, with hundreds of militants now back in play.
"Eventually it may impact us in the field," he told reporters in Kandahar City.
The city's prison came under attack on Friday, when insurgents attacked with rockets, suicide bombers and an explosives-laden truck. Munir Mungle, Afghanistan's interior minister, said the prison had held 1,005 prisoners -- including 398 Taliban. It's believed most of them escaped.
On Saturday, Mungle said six Taliban believed to be escapees had been recaptured. Others are still on the loose after using fruit orchards near Sarposa Prison as hiding areas.
Nine police officers died in the attack. The truck bomb detonated at the front gates, a suicide bomber attacked the back wall, and rockets were fired inside the institution's courtyard.
"It is indeed a wild scene," Katherine O'Neill, a Globe and Mail reporter in Kandahar, told CTV Newsnet on Saturday.
"Soldiers are desperately searching for prisoners that are still remaining in the city, but as of today, a lot of them have already fled Kandahar City."
They have headed to the Taliban hotbeds southwest of the city, she said.
In Kandahar, residents were quite fearful. The escaped criminals ranged from thieves to murderers, O'Neill said.
People in the city have "hunkered down," she said, adding many could actually feel the blast at Sarposa on Friday.
The attack is seen as a huge setback for Canadian troops in Kandahar province. NATO officials concede the Taliban's attack was a success.
"We admit it,'' said International Security Assistance Force spokesperson Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco. "Their guys did the job properly in that sense, but it does not have a strategic impact. We should not draw any conclusion about the deterioration of the military operations in the area.''
O'Neil said it has "already been a busy fighting season" and some gains had been made by NATO troops, but now roughly 400 militants may once again take up arms.
Branco tried to downplay the potential damage.
"OK, they got some more fighters, more shooters,'' Branco said. "(But) these guys who escaped from the prison are not going to change the operational tempo and they do not provide the Taliban with operational initiative.''
Gen. Rick Hillier, who steps down as Canada's top soldier next month, told reporters in Calgary on Saturday the escape wouldn't raise the threat level for Canadian troops because Afghanistan is already a very dangerous mission.
With files from The Canadian Press