Afghan and foreign troops were hunting on Saturday hundreds of prisoners, including militants, who escaped the main prison in southern Kandahar city after a raid by Taliban insurgents, the government said.
Authorities have also launched a probe to find out if any government officials were involved in the commando-style attack by several dozen Taliban fighters under darkness on Friday. So far none of the prisoners have been tracked down, deputy justice minister Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai, told Reuters.
"It was a very unprecedented attack and together with foreign forces, an operation has been launched to track down and arrest the prisoners."
Hashimzai said some 1,000 inmates, including up to 400 Taliban, were held in the prison before the attack.
He could not say how many had managed to escape, adding there were casualties among police, the Taliban and prisoners from a clash following the attack which began with a suicide bomber driving a truck into the jail gate.
Several dozen Taliban, armed with rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles then stormed the mud-built compound and started to free the prisoners which apart from militants included women and suspected criminals.
"Government officials are busy finding out what really happened. We are trying to find out that if there was any inside help," Hashimzai said.
On Saturday morning, life appeared normal in Kandahar city. There were no visible signs of heavy security or checkpoints on key roads leading out of the city. But dozens of police and army soldiers were deployed outside the badly damaged prison.
They ordered vehicles to move away from the road which is only metres away from the jail. A pile of rubble caused from the collapse of two towers of the jail along with its broken gate could be seen.
The impact of the blast had badly damaged kiosks and shops across the road. "I was packing to finish for the day and all of a sudden heard a very, very loud explosion and then a huge flame," said Abdul Qodous, a shopkeeper.
"Then I started to run away,".
Some high ranking Taliban field commanders were also among those who have managed to escape, a politician said from Kandahar, the birth place and the main stronghold of the Taliban who were ousted from power in 2001.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, speaking to Reuters from an unknown location by phone, said all Taliban former prisoners had arrived at their "safe destinations".
The U.S. military has handed over an unspecified number of suspected Taliban fighters to Afghan custody under a programme agreed last year to transfer all Afghan prisoners from U.S. detention.
A politician from Kandahar said he believed Friday's raid on prison was well organised and suspected that it could not have happened without some inside help.
The attack came a day after international donors pledged more than $20 billion for Afghanistan where over 60,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military as well as some 150,000 Afghan forces are trying to defeat the Taliban-led insurgents.
Frustration is high among many Afghans over growing insecurity, lack of economic development, corruption and with hundreds of civilian deaths by foreign troops while hunting the Taliban.
On Saturday hundreds of people staged a protest against the United States in the southeastern province of Paktia, accusing U.S.-led coalition troops of killing civillians in an air strike this week.
Afghan officials say two women were killed in late Thursday's raid and that the rest of the victims were militants.
ReutersLast Mod: 14 Haziran 2008, 10:26