Today's fascinating #longread.
Taliban Jailbreak Luke Mogelson June 2012: Newsmakers: GQ
Built on the western edge of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, a few feet from the congested Herat highway and bordered by residential neighborhoods, Sarposa Prison is a hulking symbol of government control in the traditional heartland of the Taliban. Administered by Afghans with the help of American overseers, its five cell blocks house the majority of criminals and insurgents captured in the beleaguered Kandahar Province. Naturally the facility ranks high on the target list for those still at large, and over the years Sarposa's officials have engaged in severaldeadly struggles with the Taliban, each one exposing the prison's defining characteristic: its vulnerability.
The Taliban first tunneled their way out of Sarposa in 2003, when forty-one prisoners escaped. After a weeklong search, only a handful were recaptured. In 2008 a delivery truck carrying two tons of explosives blew open Sarposa's main gate, allowing some thirty Taliban fighters on motorcycles to swarm the breach with AK-47's and rocket-propelled grenades. They killed at least nine guards and released well over a thousand prisoners (some 400 of them insurgents). One witness to the assault told me he was standing across the highway eating a pastry when the bomb blew out all the windows of the nearby shops and turned the air opaque with dust. "There were a lot of Taliban on this side of the road," the man said. "One of them had a machine gun in his hands and was yelling at the prisoners, 'Come out! Come out of the prison!' " A fleet of minibuses waited nearby to ferry the fugitives out of the city, back into the countryside.
Soon after, American and Canadian advisers, keen to prevent captured insurgents from rejoining the fight, helped Sarposa officials institute a host of security upgrades. They erected a new guard tower on the perimeter and covered open courtyards with metal mesh. They moved the first checkpoint farther back from the road, installed new blast walls, and strategically positioned sixty additional assault rifles and machine guns. A U.S. official giving a tour of the improved facility told reporters that the only chance of another escape was if the enemy "put a nuke on a motorcycle."
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