ISW in Brief: Jailbreak Spurs Attacks in Kandahar City

ISW in Brief: Jailbreak Spurs Attacks in Kandahar City

by Paraag Shukla

May 12, 2011

Last Saturday, May 7, dozens of heavily-armed Taliban fighters engaged Afghan security forces and brought Kandahar City’s urban center to a standstill for over 30 hours during the launch of a major Taliban-coordinated assault. The attackers—armed with small arms, suicide vests, and explosives—targeted the provincial governor’s office, the headquarters of the Afghan intelligence agency, local police headquarters, and other government buildings. How the insurgents were able to synchronize their movement through some of the most heavily-guarded areas in Kandahar has raised questions about the possible complicity of Afghan personnel in the attacks. Nearly all of the attackers are believed to have been part of the group of 500 imprisoned insurgents who escaped from nearby Sarposa Prison on April 25 through a 1,200 foot tunnel dug by the Taliban.

Kandahar Governor Tooryalai Wesa announced that 13 insurgents were killed by gunfire, seven detonated their suicide vests, and another seven were captured following the attack. It is unclear if any additional attackers successfully fled the scene. Twenty vehicles with explosives were also discovered by authorities after the shooting ceased. U.S. military officials reported that although four Afghans were killed and another 45 wounded, the Taliban attack was ineffective, as no government facilities were breached and insurgents did not control any section of Kandahar City during the assault.

The brazen Sarposa jailbreak and this weekend’s attacks are the latest in a series of embarrassments for the Afghan government. Insurgents were able to reorganize and participate in this major assault on a city center only weeks after their escape. Additionally, the Taliban’s campaign of assassinations and intimidation was successful in killing of Kandahar’s provincial police chief. Such incidents are likely to further undermine the morale of Afghan forces and erode the faith of the population in their local government.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly condemned the Kandahar attack, which he claimed was a reaction to the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban refuted Karzai’s statement and asserted the attack had been in the works for months as one of the first in their spring fighting season.

Insurgent groups will likely continue to conduct attacks to reestablish their strength and take the initiative to counter the heightened presence of coalition forces across southern Afghanistan over the past year. Although coalition forces have reportedly conducted 1,400 operations and killed or captured over 3,000 insurgents in the past 90 days, the scale of the Kandahar attack and the likelihood of continued violence will cause many to question the sustainability of current security levels. Coalition forces will also continue to face significant challenges in building local confidence in Afghan forces as they prepare to transition select areas to Afghan control this summer.

Paraag Shukla is a Senior Research Analyst at ISW.