June 15, 2008 / 6:55 AM / in 9 years

More than 15 Taliban killed in Afghan prisoner hunt

KABUL (Reuters) - U.S-led and Afghan forces killed more than 15 insurgents in a search for hundreds of prisoners, including Taliban, who broke out of jail after comrades blew up the gates, the U.S. military said on Sunday.

<p>An Afghan policeman looks through the debris of the entrance of the Kandahar prison in southern Afghanistan after a prison break June 14, 2008. REUTERS/Ismail Sameem</p>

The jailbreak in the southern city of Kandahar after dark on Friday came as violence has been intensifying in Afghanistan despite the growing numbers of foreign troops supporting the government.

The U.S. military said coalition forces searching for prisoners used air strikes west of Rawonay, Kandahar province, on Saturday to destroy a farming compound after insurgents attacked with small-arms fire. More than 15 insurgents were killed.

A large cache of munitions and bomb-making material were discovered during the search and five suspects were taken into custody, it said.

It was not confirmed if those killed or detained had been prisoners from the Kandahar jail. Kandahar is the birth place and the main stronghold of the Taliban who were ousted from power in 2001.

“UNFORTUNATE”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai described the incident as “unfortunate” and said much more needed to be done to strengthen Afghan forces to stop such attacks.

“There is all the more reason for us to work hard and to keep building Afghan institutions and intelligence and to be a lot more alert and steadfast in our resolve in confronting terrorism,” he told a news conference.

Afghan authorities have launched an investigation to find out if any government officials were involved in the “unprecedented” jailbreak which began when a suicide bomber drove a truck-bomb into the jail gate and blew it up.

Several dozen Taliban, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, then stormed the mud-built compound and freed the prisoners.

About 1,000 inmates were in the prison, including 400 Taliban, and nearly all of them escaped, said officials who declined to be identified. The government has confirmed that Taliban were among those who escaped but did not say how many.

A politician said 15 policemen were killed in the assault on the prison and subsequent clashes.

Some Taliban field commanders were among those who escaped, a politician from Kandahar said while a Taliban spokesman said all Taliban prisoners had reached “safe destinations”.

Separately, coalition forces killed several insurgents in ground and air strikes in the Garmser district of neighboring Helmand province on Saturday, the U.S. military said.

The operation was targeting a Taliban leader and a smuggler responsible for bringing weapons into the area. it said.

Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani

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