Afghan policemen and armored NATO military vehicles stand guard close to the main prison in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 25, 2011BY AYAZ GUL – Afghan officials say Taliban insurgents have dug a tunnel to the main prison in the southern city of Kandahar, freeing more than 400 of their jailed comrades in what the Afghan government is calling a security “disaster.”

Prison supervisor Ghulam Dastagir Mayar says about 475 inmates streamed out of Kandahar’s Sarposa prison late Sunday into Monday, most of them Taliban militants. The escaped prisoners accounted for about one-third of the jail’s population.

The Taliban says it dug a more than 300-meter long tunnel to the prison over a five-month period, bypassing government checkpoints. It says the diggers reached the prison late Sunday, enabling the inmates to escape over several hours without any guards noticing. The Taliban says the freed prisoners include 100 commanders.

Afghan presidential spokesman Waheed Omar described the jailbreak as a disastrous incident that is under investigation. Afghan authorities said they launched a search operation for the prisoners and recaptured 13 of them later in the day.

It was the second major breakout at the Sarposa prison in the past three years. In 2008, about 900 inmates, including Taliban fighters, escaped when insurgents blew open the gates with a truck bomb.

Afghan authorities upgraded security at the prison after that incident. The latest jailbreak threatens to undermine recent gains made by NATO and Afghan forces against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, just as the annual fighting season begins.

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