Security forces scramble to find Taleban escapees

By Julius Cavendish

Nato and Afghan security forces trying desperately to round up at least 475 escaped Taleban prisoners who broke out of a Kandahar jail were forced to resort to the most primitive detection methods yesterday: searching for suspects with bare feet.

The approach was deemed logical because the escapees, who crawled to freedom down a 1000ft (305m) tunnel, all left their shoes behind when they made the extraordinary escape on Monday. "Basically there's an order out to arrest anyone walking around barefoot," one US soldier told Time magazine.

Coalition forces are also trying to match anyone suspected of being an inmate of Sarpoza prison with a biometric database of the prisoners. Officials said that a day after the spectacular break-out, 65 prisoners had been recaptured and two killed in a gunfight.

The implications of the spectacular escape are severe. If history is any guide, then the flood of able fighters, including Pakistanis and field commanders, into the countryside surrounding Kandahar city could herald a sharp rise in violence at a time when many were already predicting the bloodiest spring and summer in a decade.

The benefits to the Taleban don't stop there. The psychological impact of their coup - which comes just days after a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman killed the provincial chief of police - is already being felt by Kandahar residents, who are bracing for a wave of attacks.

"How can we trust or rely on a government that can't protect the police chief inside the police headquarters and can't keep prisoners in the prison?", asked Islamullah Agha Bashir, who sells appliances in Kandahar city.

"Last night [at dinner] I told my two sons not to go out as much, because I am afraid that now, when the morale of the Taleban is high, they will attack more."

- Independent

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