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Page last updated at 23:48 GMT, Saturday, 14 June 2008 00:48 UK

Nato concedes Taleban jail blow

An Afghan police officer searches the passenger of a vehicle in Kandahar, Afghanistan, 14 June 2008
Afghan security forces have been conducting searches around the city

Nato has admitted a jail-break by hundreds of prisoners after Taleban fighters blew up a Kandahar prison gate was a success for the Taleban.

But a Nato spokesman said the mass escape was an isolated incident that did not mean the militants were gaining strength in Afghanistan generally.

Afghan and Nato troops are searching for 350 militants who were among some 900 inmates to escape, officials said.

Fifteen guards died in the truck bomb and rocket attack in the southern city.

"I understand it was a very successful move for the Taleban, I'm not denying that, but we should not over-react and exaggerate in the results," Nato spokesman General Carlos Branco told the BBC.

"It's very soon to make an assessment and say that it was a strategic blow."

'Major breach'

The Afghan police and army are conducting house-to-house searches in Kandahar while Nato forces are using helicopters to secure the city and the outlying districts.

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A state of emergency has been declared in the city

A state of emergency was declared in the city, the second biggest in the country, after the attack on Friday night. All residents were ordered to stay in their homes.

Thirty fighters on motorbikes and two suicide bombers attacked the prison on Friday night, freeing about 400 Taleban members, said Taleban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi.

A number of high-ranking Taleban field commanders are believed to be among those who escaped.

Prison chief Abdul Qabir said some of the inmates had chosen to stay behind during the break-out. They were said to be mostly women, children and political prisoners.

Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council and also the brother of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, suggested that the search for the escapees might prove futile.

"Honestly I don't know because this area you can walk to the other districts," he said.

"They might recapture some people but I don't know."

Key battleground

An eyewitness told the BBC that the force of the initial blast had been enough to blow out windows up to 3km (1.7 miles) from the prison.

Kandahar prison, 14 June
Taleban militants attacked the prison with a truck bomb and rockets

People living nearby also reported hearing blasts from rockets and machine-gun fire.

The Afghan authorities have begun an investigation to find out whether any government officials might have been involved in the attack.

Kandahar is one of the key battlegrounds in the Taleban's insurgency against President Karzai and Nato and US troops.

Last month inmates at Kandahar jail ended a week-long hunger strike after a parliamentary delegation promised to address their demands.

Almost 400 prisoners said they had been denied access to fair trials and some also complained of torture.




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