Taliban tunnel: Five prison escapes in Iraq, Afghanistan

If Western audiences are inspired by the film "Shawshank Redemption" about a solo prison escape, then Taliban sympathizers must surely be heartened by today's spectacular escape of some 500 inmates from a Kandahar prison through a 1,180-foot-long tunnel. But while character Andy Dufresne had to dig out of Shawshank prison without any assistance, the Taliban prisoners are suspected of having help from guards.

This is not the first jail break that has set back the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor is it even the first escape from this specific prison. Here's a short list of recent prison breaks (and one near-escape) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Taliban tunnel: 475 escapees

An Afghan police officer inspects the entrance to an escape tunnel at the main prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 25. Taliban insurgents dug a 1,180-foot tunnel underground into the main jail in Kandahar city and whisked out more than 450 prisoners, most of whom were Taliban fighters, officials and the insurgents said Monday. (Allauddin Khan/AP)

The Afghan government says 475 inmates escaped from Kandahar’s central prison in the early hours of Monday morning through a 1,180-foot tunnel. While the Taliban said it had freed 541 inmates, what is clear is that all those who escaped were from the political section, which mostly housed people who had been arrested for involvement with the insurgency.

The Taliban was quick to pat itself on the back for the spectacular prison escape, releasing a statement that said only three prisoners had advance knowledge of the escape plan. Over the past five months, militants dug a passage from outside the prison, underneath a major highway and police checkpoints, and into the facility. Inmates began moving through the tunnel at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday night and finished at 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning.

“It is impossible for the Taliban to get 500 men out of prison without anyone’s help," Ahmad Shah Khan Achakzai, a former member of parliament in Kandahar, told the Monitor. "I believe there are some people from the prison or the government who gave the Taliban support.… It’s now clear to everyone how corrupt the government is.”

Sarposa prison attack: 900 runaways

In 2008, some 900 prisoners – including about 400 Taliban fighters – broke out of Kandahar's Sarposa prison (the site of today's prison break) after militants attacked the facility with suicide bombs and small arms fire.

"It took all of 30 minutes," TIME magazine reported afterward. "On June 13, Taliban forces sent two suicide bombers into a prison in the southern Afghan town of Kandahar; they were followed by 30 motorcycle-riding militants, who systematically broke down every cell door in the jail. ... The jailbreak and ensuing raid indicates the growing strength of the Taliban, whose fundamentalist Islamic regime was pushed from power when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001."

Canada subsequently invested $4 million to bolster Sarposa's defenses and spent years training guards at the prison. Security had supposedly been tightened since then, reports The Canadian Press.

Basra walkout: 12 militants

Some jail breaks don't require getting your fingernails dirty. In January 2011 at a prison in the southern Iraq city of Basra, 12 prisoners obtained police uniforms and simply walked out of the detention center. They were said to have ties with the Islamic State of Iraq – a Sunni insurgent group affiliated to Al Qaedaaccording to the BBC.

'The Great Escape' tunnel in Iraq

When dirt starts accumulating in strange places around a prison, you've got a problem. In March 2005 at the US-run Camp Bucca prison near the southern town of Umm Qasr, officials began finding dirt in the toilets and other places. The very ground appeared to be changing color.

Troops mounted an extensive search and uncovered a series of tunnels, including a 600-foot-long hollow that extended beyond the security fence. The Washington Post reported at the time:

In the darkest hours before dawn, groups of 10 detainees toiled 15 feet beneath Compound 5 of America's largest prison in Iraq. The men worked in five-minute shifts, digging with shovels fashioned from tent poles and hauling the dirt to the surface with five-gallon water jugs tethered to 200 feet of rope. They bagged it in sacks that had been used to deliver their bread rations and spread it surreptitiously across a soccer field where fellow inmates churned it during daily matches, guards and detainees recalled.

The 105th Military Police Battalion, charged with running Camp Bucca in the scorching desert of southernmost Iraq, knew something was amiss: Undetectable to the naked eye, the field's changing color was picked up by satellite imagery. The excavated dirt was also clogging the showers and two dozen portable toilets. The dirt was showing up under the floorboards of tents; some guards sensed that the floor itself seemed to be rising. Mysteriously, water use in the compound had spiked.

According to the Post, an informant tipped off the Americans only hours before a planned prison break on March 24, 2005. The entrance to the tunnel, which became known as "The Great Escape" tunnel, was under a floorboard, according to a BBC report. A spokesman "said it was believed that the tunnels had been dug over several weeks and prisoners had waited for poor weather and low visibility before trying to make an escape."

Following the incident, Camp Bucca replaced the prisoners' tents with concrete-bottomed buildings.

Out the window in Tikrit: 16 inmates

Inmates saw a window of opportunity at a US-run prison in the Iraqi city of Tikrit. In September 2009, prisoners used a wrench to unscrew a window grate in a bathroom of the prison, reported The New York Times, enabling 16 inmates to slip out and down a 12-foot high wall.

The Associated Press reported that the escapees were being held on charges including terrorism, kidnapping and murder, and five were Al Qaeda-linked prisoners awaiting execution.