You can’t keep a good Talib down. Or in jail, apparently. The Taliban just staged a classic secret-tunnel escape from Saraposa Prison in Kandahar. The latest estimate is that about 500 prisoners made it out through this tunnel, but I’d bet the total will go up. Saraposa is designed to hold 1200 prisoners and there’s no shortage of Talibs in the neighborhood, since Kandahar is the big Pashtun city in the south, and used to be Mullah Omar’s HQ.
The authorities are shocked, in the Nevada Gaming Commission sense of “shocked,” that this could have happened. At least it gave us one great quote:
Afghan presidential spokesman Waheed Omar was blunt.
“This is a blow,” Omar told The Associated Press. “A prison break of this magnitude of course points to a vulnerability.”
Oh, I wouldn’t go that far, Omar. I wouldn’t use the V-word, just because the Taliban just strolled out of your big prison for the second time in three years.
Omar says it points to a “vulnerability,” but when you translate that into English it points to something much simpler: total corruption of the prison staff.
The official story, which is just plain ridiculous, is that this is one of those classic POW escapes like some old British WW II drama about Stalag 17. Sure. The Talibs secretly dug a tunnel more than 300 meters long, right under the guards’ noses, right in the middle of a big city, and nobody noticed.
Afghan prison: You can check out any time you like.
That’s a major construction operation. Just think of the volume of dirt you’d have to move, the amount of noise you’d have to make. I’m not buying the idea that this was a Hogan’s Heroes operation with the Talibs sneaking out the excavated dirt inside their baggy pants and then opening the drawstring to let it fall out in the yard while they were getting their exercise. Even in Afghanistan, where dust was invented, that’d be enough dirt to be noticed. The prison yard would be a good-sized hill before the tunnel was finished. And the noise! This is something you know about if you grew up in Bakersfield. My friends and I would try to dig out forts in the dirt like Civil War soldiers used to, and we’d be shocked—in the real sense of shocked—because the dirt is so dry in Bakersfield that shovels bounced off it with this noise like they’d hit a car fender. You couldn’t dig yourself a fort unless you soaked the ground down for days, unless you had picks and bigger shoulders than we did. It wasn’t that different from digging in concrete.
And Bakersfield is only “semi-arid,” a humid jungle compared to Afghanistan. In a place like that, the dirt is either rock or dust. If it’s rock, you need heavy equipment to dig; if it’s dust, you need half a lumber yard to make supports for your tunnel. Either way, they didn’t do it with spoons.
The only question is whether it was threats, bribery or outright double agents helping the inmates. Although realistically, it could be all of the above. Siting a Taliban prison in Kandahar is stupid in the first place; any locals you recruit for your staff are going to be Pashtun, and that means Taliban. And even if they weren’t sympathetic to begin with, they’re living and breathing in Talib notions every day in a place like that. Prime the pump with a few thousand in cash or gold from your ISI friends and it wouldn’t be hard to recruit the whole prison staff to help you stage your big breakout. Cough up a few extra dollars for a boom box to play the Mission Impossible theme while they’re going through the tunnel and you’ve got the next big Taliban DVD.
One reason the prison staff would’ve been in a cooperative frame of mind is that they’d remember the last time the Taliban broke this prison wide open, in June 2008. That was a full-scale guerrilla operation, with at least 30 Taliban attackers breaking into Saraposa to free their friends inside. That attack had everything you’d want for a great action film: RPG teams ready to fire on the guard towers, a couple of suicide bombers loitering around the main entrance, and a huge fuel truck full of explosives parked by the gate. The signal was the the explosion of the truck, which blasted down the outer wall. The RPGs fired when they heard the explosion, pinning down the guards. Then suicide bombers ran through the gap and detonated against the inner walls. Every single prisoner in the place ran out, close to a thousand men.
And about a dozen guards were killed in the RPG and bomb attacks, crushed under adobe walls. You can see some of the damage in this bizarre news clip, voice-over’d by a lady who chirps along in a happy computer voice like she’s inviting you to join Verizon while she describes all the chaos and treachery that led to so much broken concrete.
What the messy, violent style of that 2008 break means is that maybe that one was a genuine secret plot, at least partly. I mean, that the guards may not have been in on it, at least not all of them. There were probably—Hell, there were almost certainly—Taliban supporters on the staff, but it looks like some of the staff weren’t on-board with the big break. That’s why they had to go in with bombs blazing and kill a few guards. In that way, the 2008 break was a disaster but at least it was a clean disaster, doesn’t mean your guard staff is totally infiltrated by Talibs.
This latest break does mean that. You have to figure every single guard at that prison has a few more gold coins buried in the corner of his house after not noticing all the heavy construction work for that tunnel. That’s if they even had to be bribed. Maybe they were just good patriotic Pashtun who were all for the break and took their turns with the pick and shovel.
Happy ending: Forrest Al-Gump runs for home
And maybe…well, this is where it gets weird…maybe the collusion went much higher than that. There’s a precedent, that’s for sure, for the idea that letting Taliban go free had the OK from the White House. I’m talking about one of the biggest unreported stories of 2001, the “airlift of evil,” in November 2001, when Dick Cheney personally approved a Pakistani request to fly thousands of Taliban and their ISI handlers out of Kunduz, which was about to be overrun by Northern Alliance Tajiks and Uzbek who were drooling at the thought of all those helpless Talib bastards finally at their mercy. Thanks to Cheney, every one of those stinking pederast killers made it safely out of Afghanistan for a little R&R in Islamabad before being infiltrated back into Afghanistan to kill Gis and slit schoolgirls’ throats. That was the first, and worst, of the big Afghan prison breaks, and it had CIA written all over it.
You can read about that 2001 airlift, which made US advisors on the ground so pissed off they called it the “Airlift of Evil,” in this great, brave story written by a guy called Michael Moran back in 2001. One thing I always look for out there, and don’t find much, is courage from the press. Not our press, anyway. Well, credit where it’s due: This Michael Moran wrote about Cheney’s sleazy moves back in November 2001, without groveling or flinching. And that wasn’t easy. I remember what it was like back then: if you didn’t squirt a few tears every time they showed the WTC, you were a Muzzie-loving traitor and deserved to hang. If you were brave back in the Fall of 2001, then—to quote that line about the prawns in Apocalypse Now—you’ll never have to prove your courage again. I’d never heard of Michael Moran before I found his story by googling for Afghan escapes, but I have to give him all honor now. Read his story and see if you can think of anybody now who’s that clear and brave about this stuff. We’ve come a long way in ten years, all of it down.
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