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Hillier regrets intelligence breakdown

Globe and Mail Update and The Canadian Press

Ottawa — The Chief of Canada's Defence Staff says he regrets that intelligence services did not provide information that could have thwarted the well-organized prison break in Kandahar last week that freed hundreds of Taliban prisoners.

"Obviously we would have liked to have known so we could have pre-empted or helped, more accurately, the Afghans pre-empt that kind of thing," Gen. Rick Hillier told reporters after meeting with the Commons Defence Committee Tuesday.

"Clearly we did not. And so we just tend to sort of put our elbows down and get to work to make sure we try to get an even better perspective of what we think might occur in the future so we can pro-actively pre-empt it in a variety of ways."

The general's comments came a day after Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson said there will be an investigation to determine why Canadian intelligence heard nothing before the elaborate attack.

But Gen. Hillier said war zones are not always predictable.

"We're in a complex environment there. The Taliban have had good operational security in the past. Not always, and that's why we've had some very real successes. In this case their operational security for that specific attack was obviously pretty good," he said.

"The Taliban have obviously demonstrated numerous times that they can organize things in Kandahar province. This one was obviously a bigger even than some of the others that we've seen. We'll learn some lessons from this also. We'll help the Afghans learn some lessons."

Tuesday, the Taliban moved into villages just outside Kandahar city, as Canadian officials played down suggestions that combat was imminent between the insurgents and NATO troops.

Reports that the Taliban took over villages are greatly exaggerated, officials say.

The officials do not dispute reports of an increased insurgent presence in the Arghandab region, or reports of bombed-out culverts and planted land mines.

But they say a more accurate description of the situation in Arghandab is that the Taliban have entered a handful of villages to make their presence felt.

The officials say the Taliban are trying to frighten the locals into supporting them.

Hundreds of families are reported fleeing villages next to the provincial capital.

The inhabitants are abandoning farms in the middle of the harvest season due to fears that combat could erupt with Canadian and Afghan troops moving in to confront the Taliban.

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