More than 350 inmates escaped an Afghan prison following a coordinated attack by Taliban insurgents, an Afghan official and the Taliban said.
Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, deputy governor of Ghazni province, said Monday that insurgents wearing military uniforms launched a well-organized attack early Monday morning that included using a suicide bomber to breach the compound's walls. Four guards were killed and seven others were wounded, while three insurgents were also killed, Ahmadi said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on the Ghazni prison in an email sent to the media.
A total of 355 prisoners escaped, the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement, and only 82 prisoners remain in custody in the prison.
However Ahmadi added that 20 of the prison's most dangerous inmates had been transferred to another facility a day earlier after a fight broke out.
Officials in Ghazni said that there were attacks by the Taliban in at least 10 different parts of the city overnight.
"There was an organized attack around 2:00 a.m. on the Ghazni prison, to make their plan successful the enemy at the same time launched attacks in different locations of the city as well," Ahmadi said, adding that the suicide car bomber breached the jail's entrance gates while security forces were busy defending other parts of the city.
"At least 148 of the escaped inmates are considered to be a serious threat to national security," the Interior Ministry statement said, adding that three of the escaped prisoners have been recaptured so far.
Monday's attack is reminiscent of the Taliban attack this past June on the Afghan parliament, where seven Taliban fighers were killed and 19 people were injured, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
"It shows a big failure in the intelligence and security departments of the government," said Farhad Sediqi, a lawmaker, told Reuters.
The attack comes after the US military ended major combat operations in Afghanistan in December, adding to worries about the Afghan Army's ability to contain the Taliban.
The attack occurred as lawmakers gathered to vote up or down on Masood Staneksai as Afghanistan's new defense minister. Mr. Stanekzai is said to have been in the tightly-secured building during the assault. The country has been without a confirmed defense minister for nearly 10 months; President Ashraf Ghani’s previous two candidates were rejected by the parliament.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeting: "Several mujahideen have entered the parliament building, heavy fighting is on-going."
Taliban attacks have surged in the last two months. Fighting is particularly fierce in the northern Kunduz province, where Archi district fell to the Taliban today, the second district to fall in the last two days.
The resilience of the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, continues after more than a decade of war waged by US and its NATO allies in the country. With the Afghan Army and police now fighting more-or-less alone, there are doubts about what comes next.