The men broke out of Policharki Prison, on the outskirts of the capital Kabul, on Sunday, said General Abdul Salam Bakshi, the director of the country's prisons, on Tuesday.

"We've launched a manhunt for these Taliban members, but there's no sign of them so far," he said.

"They were all caught fighting for the Taliban."

Bakshi said the men were from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold.

They had been sentenced to between 16 and 17 years in prison, but he had no other details about their convictions or identities.

Relatives

They escaped while relatives were visiting them at the prison, the general said.

Ten prison guards who are suspected of helping the men to escape have been arrested, Bakshi said.

The breakout comes as authorities are refurbishing part of the prison to improve security ahead of the return of Afghan terror suspects being held in US military custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The escape is the second in six months. In July, four al-Qaida members, including one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants in Southeast Asia, broke out of Bagram, sparking a massive, but unsuccessful, manhunt.