Taliban Fighters Once Held as Prisoners in Kabul Prison Now in Charge of Running It

A prison outside eastern Kabul, where many members of the Taliban were once kept in custody, is now under the militant group's control, the Associated Press reported.

Dozens of Taliban fighters are in charge after driving out guards and freeing all Pul-e-Charkhi Prison's inmates. The facility had a long reputation for violence, mass executions and torture.

"I feel so terrible when I remember those days," said one Taliban commander who told the AP he was imprisoned there for around 14 months. "Those days are the darkest days of my life, and now this the happiest moment for me that I am free and come here without fear."

Mass graves and torture chambers from the Soviet-occupied government of the 1970s and 1980s were found at the prison. Things weren't much better under the U.S.-backed government when the facility was notorious for poor conditions and overcrowding. Its 11 cell blocks held twice the amount of prisoners they were built to contain, including Taliban and criminals.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Taliban Fighter
Taliban fighters, once prisoners at Pul-e-Charkhi prison, are now running it. Above, a Taliban fighter lifts a weight left behind by former prisoners at Pul-e-Charkhi in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 13, 2021. Felipe Dana/AP Photo

Once, Kabul's main prison was crowded with thousands of Taliban captured and arrested by the government. On Monday, a Taliban commander strolled through its empty halls and cell blocks, showing his friends where he had once been imprisoned.

It was a sign of the sudden and startling new order in Afghanistan after the militant group swept into the capital nearly a month ago and threw out the crumbling, U.S.-backed government it had fought for 20 years.

The commander, who refused to give his name, was on a personal visit to the complex with a group of his friends. He told the Associated Press he had been arrested around a decade ago in eastern Kunar province and was brought to Pul-e-Charkhi, bound and blindfolded.

Many Afghans as well as governments around the world have been alarmed by the swift Taliban seizure of power, fearing the movement will impose a similar, harsh rule as they did during their first time ruling in the 1990s. But for the Taliban fighters, it's a moment to savor a victory after years of grueling fighting—and to see a city few of them have entered since the war began.

For some of the Taliban guards accompanying the AP, it was the first time they'd entered the abandoned cell blocks. They looked with curiosity through the cells, still littered with things the last inmates left behind—fabrics hanging from the walls and windows, small rugs, water bottles.

One fighter exchanged his sandals for a better pair he found in a cell. Then he found yet a better pair and exchanged again. Others played with the former prisoners' makeshift weight bars.

Taliban prisoners often complained of abuses and beatings, and there were regular riots. Still, they kept up their organization behind bars, winning concessions like access to cell phones and longer time outside their cells.

Some of the Taliban now guarding the site were former inmates. The government guards have fled and don't dare return, fearing reprisals. Though the facility remains largely empty, one section holds around 60 people imprisoned in the past few weeks, who the guards said were mostly accused criminals and drug addicts.