Canada beefs up Kandahar presence after prison break
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Sunday, June 15, 2008 3:27PM EDT
Defence Minister Peter MacKay says NATO has sent additional troops to the Kandahar City area in the wake of Friday's brazen prison break that freed about 400 Taliban fighters.
"I spoke with Col. Jamie Cade (deputy commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan) this morning from the Kandahar Airfield," MacKay said on CTV's Question Period on Sunday.
There (have) been additional Canadian forces personnel -- and other (International Security Assistance Force) personnel -- who have been deployed into Kandahar City and into the region."
MacKay said Cade told him that there is "of course a lot of fear, a lot of frustration, a lot of anger about how this happened," but that local Afghans have been co-operative.
About 400 Taliban militants were among the 870 who escaped following a co-ordinated attack on Sarposa Prison in Kandahar City on Friday.
MacKay emphasized that Afghanistan operated the prison, saying its officials "have obviously a lot to account for."
He downplayed the idea of a Canadian-run prison in Afghanistan to hold prisoners captured by Canadian troops.
"We do not want to take over the responsibility for what has to be an Afghanistan lead. Let's not forget, we're there to assist, to mentor, to build capacity for Afghan officials around the security (issue). We're they're training police. We're there training their army," he said.
He said Canadian officials had gone to the prison in the past to ensure it was secure, but efforts would have to be redoubled.
A University of Ottawa law professor told Question Period that the prison break highlights the need for Canadians to build their own jail in Afghanistan.
Amir Attaran, who has been highly critical of the government's stance on the Afghan detainees issue, said the break was "really like hitting the reboot button on the war."
"Canada and the rest of NATO could run a prison themselves ... at least people wouldn't escape and return to kill more of our soldiers," he said.
Attaran said the U.S. has set up a prison in Afghanistan and there's no reason the NATO countries couldn't do the same.
He said Afghanistan's facilities aren't capable of effectively holding Taliban fighters. He noted that Sarposa Prison has mud walls that were breeched by a creek. Because the creek went through a minefield, mines were sometimes able to float into the prison.
"It's almost comical. This is the prison that Mr. (Stephen) Harper and Mr. (Gen. Rick) Hillier trusted to hold the Taliban?" asked Attaran.
Globe and Mail correspondent Paul Koring -- who has reported extensively on Afghanistan, specifically the Afghan detainees controversy -- said Canada does not necessarily need to go it alone when it comes to a detention facility.
"The government doesn't seem to have any interest, for instance, in jointly operating a prison facility (with the Afghans) that might not just avoid torture, it might actually do some rehabilitation," he said.
"It would certainly mean that we would not have people breaking out, coming back and killing Canadian soldiers."
Search for escapees
Meanwhile, U.S.-led coalition forces said they have killed 15 insurgents during a hunt for the escaped Taliban prisoners and criminals freed during the prison attack.
Another five militants were captured on Saturday, the U.S. said Sunday, but it couldn't say if any of those captured were escapees.
The militants fired at U.S. forces from inside a farming compound. Air strikes were called in to destroy the compound.
Afghan security forces said Sunday they had recaptured 20 prisoners, including seven Taliban fighters.
Alexander Panetta, a Canadian Press reporter in Kandahar, told CTV Newsnet on Sunday that Canadian forces are currently working in an intelligence capacity in the break's wake.
They were at the prison about 15 minutes after the break, but had surveillance equipment in the sky relatively quickly, he said.
Fruit orchards near the prison probably helped give the escaped convicts cover, he said.
In addition, Afghan authorities didn't immediately start hunting down the escapees, deciding instead to secure the prison. But every prisoner who could have escaped did so by then, he said.
Brig.-Gen. Dennis Thompson, Canada's top army commander in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kandahar on Saturday that the escape could affect Canadian operations in the province.
Other NATO officials said the attack would not have a long-term effect on military operations.
Panetta said the Taliban's successful attack on the facility has also unnerved residents of Kandahar City.