The great escape from the main prison in Kandahar is consistent with the general trajectory of the war on two accounts: the failure of the coalition to make permanent gains and the increasing sophistication of the insurgency.
First, Kandahar was supposed to be the success story of the coalition and the gains in this province were to compensate for the deterioration of the security in the rest of the country. But these developments paint another story about progress on the ground.
The complexity of the attack shows that the insurgents have a strong presence in the city and clearly indicates that the police have not been able to fundamentally improve security at the prison, despite an attack there two years ago.
The prison break will have a strong psychological impact, discouraging people who were ready to work with the coalition. This is especially true since Kandahar’s police chief, an important local figure, was recently killed.
It is yet another indication that the targeted eliminations conducted by the coalition have not seriously disrupted the insurgents — most likely because the leadership is more in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. The few dozen cadres who escaped from Kandahar prison will reinforce, even if only marginally, the local leadership.
Second, this attack is part of a national trend indicating a more sophisticated and aggressive insurgency this year. The coalition is peaking in terms of resources and soldiers on the ground. The last few weeks have demonstrated the insurgents’ ability to organize complex attacks. The number of attacks against the coalition is at record levels and everything indicates that their offensive will be especially aggressive this year. Since the coalition doesn’t have the resources to launch another large-scale operation, the insurgency will likely make significant progress in the coming months.
In this context, the transfer of security operations and responsibilities to the Afghan national army before 2014 seems like a fantasy. Military withdrawal without negotiating with the Taliban leadership is impossible.