The Taliban has freed more than 140 of its fighters and 200 prisoners in a coordinated suicide assault on a jail in the southeastern Afghan province of Ghazni today. Among those freed include 17 “dangerous” Taliban operatives, Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry stated.
Heavily armed Taliban fighters dressed in Afghan military uniforms assaulted the prison, which is just four miles outside of the provincial capital of Ghazni city, at 2:00 a.m. local Afghan time. According to a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website, “10 martyrdom seekers [suicide bombers] and tens of other Mujahideen” executed the operation against the poorly guarded prison.
The Taliban planned the attack in a manner that prevented reinforcements from reaching the prison. “Roads to the prison were covered with land mines in advance to avoid reinforcement,” the deputy governor of Ghazni city told reporters, according to Reuters. “An army vehicle coming for reinforcements was blown up by a roadside bomb while trying to reach the prison.”
The Afghan Ministry of the Interior said that four prison guards and four Taliban fighters were killed during the assault. The Taliban claimed that “only 3 martyrdom seekers attained martyrdom in the operation … while all the rest safely returned back to their bases.”
Of the 436 inmates housed at the prison, 355 escaped. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 148 of the escapees are deemed a “threat to national security” while the other 207 are classified as “criminals.” The Taliban claimed that all of those freed from prison were “transferred to areas under Mujahideen control.”
Afghan intelligence appears to have had prior warning that a prison break was being planned. One day before the attack, 18 “dangerous” commanders were transferred to another location, but 17 remained and escaped.
The Taliban has attacked prisons in order to free inmates in the past. The two most spectacular operations took place in Kandahar in 2008 and again in 2011. At least 1,500 prisoners were freed in the attacks.
The prison breaks have provided the Taliban with an infusion of leaders and fighters. Afghan security forces and the Coalition have struggled to recapture those who escaped. One such commander, Wali Mohammad, who escaped in 2008, was detained three years later. He interacted with Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, who at the time was the leader of Rahbari or Quetta Shura, and who is now the emir of the Taliban.
Ghazni a hotbed for jihadist groups
Ghazni province has been a center of Taliban activity. At least 11 policemen have been reported to have been killed over the past several weeks. Just two weeks ago, the Taliban killed eight policemen in two separate attacks in the districts of Andar and Qarabagh. And at the end of August, the jihadist group kidnapped and then executed three border policemen in Ghazni.
The Taliban are thought to control or contest several districts in Ghazni. In June, Major General Mohammad Afzal Aman, the head of operations for the Ministry of Defense, admitted that Nawa district was under Taliban control. Later that month, local government officials in Ghazni said that Ab Band, Gilan, Giro, Rashidan, Qarabagh, and Waghaz were in danger of falling to the jihadist group, and that the government’s writ in these districts did not extend beyond the district centers. The Taliban is known to have overrun Arjistan district in June 2014. Andar district, a Taliban stronghold where local militias fought the group in 2012 with the help of US forces, is heavily contested.
Ghazni province is also a known hub al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Lashar-e-Taiba in the southeast. Al Qaeda has promoted its operations in the province in its propaganda. In September 2012, the governor of Ghazni warned that the Taliban were bringing “foreign militants” into the province, and the deputy chief of the Ghazni provincial council said a large number of Pakistanis are currently fighting in Ghazni. Pakistanis, Arabs, and Chechens have been spotted fighting in the province.
The presence of al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Lashkar-e-Taiba cells has been detected in the districts of Andar, Deh Yak, Gelan, Ghazni, Shah Joy, and Waghaz, or six of the province’s 16 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
Over the past several years, a number of al Qaeda and other terrorist leaders and operatives have been killed or captured in Ghazni. Among them were Aafia Siddiqui, an American-educated Pakistani scientist who has been dubbed “Lady al Qaeda” by the press, and a Lashkar-e-Taiba leader.
In all, during the 21 raids in Ghazni that were documented by the former International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from October 2008 to June 2013, four al Qaeda-linked leaders and operatives were killed and nine more were captured. ISAF reported 357 raids against al Qaeda and allied terror groups in Afghanistan between April 2007 and June 2013. ISAF ended reporting on its raids against al Qaeda in June 2013.
Ghazni province was considered by Osama bin Laden to be strategic terrain. The former al Qaeda leader chose Ghazni as one of four provinces to relocate al Qaeda commanders and operatives to in order to avoid the US drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. [See LWJ report, Bin Laden advised relocation of some leaders to Afghanistan due to drone strikes in Waziristan.]
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