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Canada will 'continue to plug away' despite Afghan jailbreak: Harper

Recaptured Afghan prisoners line up as they return to jail in Kandahar on April 26, 2011.

Allauddin Khan/AP

It's an embarrassment of sorts for Canada: the Taliban springs more than 470 prisoners from a Kandahar City jail this week - a facility fortified by Canadians against such escapes.

But Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says it's all part of the learning experience in Afghanistan.

Canada spent at least $4-million upgrading Sarpoza prison and training its staff after a previous jailbreak by the Taliban in 2008 that freed more than 800 inmates.

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But late Sunday night and early Monday morning another 475 prisoners escaped Sarpoza through a secret 300-metre tunnel that the Taliban said it spent five months digging.

"Obviously we're disappointed with this particular failure there," Mr. Harper said during a campaign stop in Quebec's Eastern Townships.

"But, you know, this is a long learning experience and we'll continue to plug away and continue to work with Afghan authorities to make progress on these issues."

Canada is no longer the lead nation in Kandahar province, having yielded that responsibility to the Americans. It was in charge back in 2008 during the last major Sarpoza prison escape.

In the aftermath of the last jailbreak three years ago, though, Canada spent more than $2-million alone on a building program that improved Sarpoza's gates, walls and towers.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon visited the centre in 2009 to highlight the Canadian government's focus on improving "police, courts and corrections."

Canada's 10-year participation in the Afghanistan war will have cost it more than $11-billion by the time this country's combat mission ends here in 2011.

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Since the start of Canadian military action in Afghanistan, 155 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives. A Canadian diplomat, two Canadian aid workers and a Canadian journalist have also died there.

With a report from Graeme Smith

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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