Seven mid-ranking Taliban rebels have escaped from Afghanistan's main high-security prison, officials said Tuesday. The men broke out of Policharki Prison, on the outskirts of the capital Kabul, on Sunday, said Gen. Abdul Salam Bakshi, the director of the country's prisons.
He said the men had been sentenced to between 16 to 17 years in prison, but he had no other details about their identities or what they were convicted for. They escaped while relatives were visiting them at the prison, the general said. "We've launched a manhunt for these Taliban members," he said. "But there's no sign of them so far."
The breakout comes as authorities are refurbishing part of the prison to improve security ahead of the return of Afghan terror suspects being held in U.S. military custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The U.S. and the Afghan government announced last August that Afghans held at Guantanamo and elsewhere would be sent back to Afghanistan, but didn't say when. American and allied Afghan forces captured thousands of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida members in Afghanistan after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the repressive Taliban government in late 2001.
Hundreds of detainees were classified as "enemy combatants" and transferred to Guantanamo, while others were detained at Policharki, or at a large detention facility at Bagram, the U.S. military's headquarters north of Kabul.
The escape is the second in six months. In July, four al-Qaida members, including one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants in Southeast Asia, broke out of Bagram, sparking a massive, but unsuccessful, manhunt, reports the AP. N.U.