450 Taliban Prisoners Escape In Kandahar. Why Are We Still There?

Prison Break
Prison Break by XOZ (The REAL XOZ), on Flickr

In “What the H*ll are we still doing there news” today it was reported that more than 400 Taliban prisoners where able to escape from a jail in Kandahar today. Apparently the Taliban were able to dig a 1000 foot long tunnel from outside the prison and help their captive comrades to escape.

According the Taliban spokes person more than 100 of the escaped prisoners were “middle level” commanders. These are the battlefield (if you can call it that) commanders who lead small groups of insurgents in country.

It has been part of the US counterinsurgency strategy to target these leaders. The theory being that without these rather more disciplined men the small groups of Taliban fighters loose contact with the leadership in Pakistan and are much less effective.

Now just as the so-called “summer fighting season” is beginning there will be a strong up tick in the numbers of competent Taliban commanders, in the Kandahar region.

We have known for a long time that our efforts in Afghanistan were being crippled by having to support a totally corrupt and incompetent leadership (Thanks President Bush, nice pick, you couldn’t have sent Brownie to run Afghanistan? He couldn’t have done worse than Hamid Karzai) and a people who really don’t want us there, but this just makes things all that more clear.

This is not the first time this prison has been the site of a massive prison break. Nearly three years ago, in June 2008 the Taliban attacked the prison and released 1,000 prisoners. I guess you could say we are making progress, 34 months later they were only able to release under half that number. At this rate we should be able to make that prison totally secure in another 9 years.

It does go the bigger picture though. What is the point of arresting the Taliban fighters if we can’t keep them in custody? We have been told by everyone involved in our failed war there that we can’t win by killing them all, and now it seems we can’t really win by arresting them either.

The Taliban says that they were working on that tunnel for months. They only had to go 1000 feet, about the length of a football field. Given the nature of the prisoners being held in that wing, don’t you think we and the Afghan forces might be able to notice that someone is digging a tunnel?

The answer is, of course we could, if there were not the issue of our very unpopular war there, and the endemic corruption in the Afghan police. In a normal set of circumstance you would not have a prison located where there might be buildings you could spend all your time digging in. You would also have strange things noticed and reported by the local people. Those things are sadly missing in Kandahar.

So, what do we have? We have a major PR win for the Taliban. After all who doesn’t love a plucky prison break story? Especially when the villains are an overpowering military force? Even if none of the commanders return to the fight (which is highly unlikely) the perception that the Taliban can steal away something the US and Afghan forces had gone to great lengths to acquire is going to give their recruiting a boost.

Will it matter in the end? Probably not; I have been of the opinion that we would not be able to achieve anything approaching a win for more than a year and a half. I believed that it was incumbent on us to try to establish some kind of stability there, since we had invaded and ousted the existing government. We have now made the attempt. Between the safe haven in Pakistan, the ISI supporting the Taliban and the fact that we squandered our best window of opportunity to go to war with Iraq, we have no chance of making things right through the use of our military.

This just gives one more clear example that the deck is stacked against us. Short of decades of this kind of fighting (and spending) there is no chance that we can put Afghanistan together again. It is a great shame and will be a real problem for the innocent Afghans who just want to lead a decent life when we leave, but there is little that can be done about that now.

War should never be entered into cavalierly. There is always the chance that you will fail for whatever reason. The Bush administration set the stage for this failure, and it is going to be the Obama administration that owns it because of a good faith attempt to be responsible for our war, but in the end this is a lost war.

No matter what, we must begin a sharp reduction of our troops this year and set a goal for leaving in the shortest order possible. That is about all that is left to do in this total clusterfuck of a war.

The floor is yours.

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