Jailbreak! Security found lacking in Iraq, Libya, Pakistan.

Though there isn’t evidence to suggest coordination between the three cases, the prison breaks cast doubts on these countries’ ability to rule.

Ishtiaq Mahsud/AP
A plainclothes police officer takes a photo with his mobile phone of a damaged gate of center jail caused by Taliban militants attacked, Tuesday, July 30, in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan. Dozens of Taliban militants armed with guns, grenades and bombs attacked a prison in northwest Pakistan, freeing more than 250 prisoners.

Nearly 250 prisoners have escaped from a Pakistani prison following a massive assault that killed 12 people, including five police officers.

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistan Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the prison break, which took place in the town of Dera Ismail Khan in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, reports Dawn. Though Pakistan’s government has promised to end its decade-long conflict with the TTP, which has killed more than 50,000 people, peace talks are looking less likely after several deadly attacks by the insurgent group.

The prison assault comes only days after similar attacks on prisons in Iraq and Libya saw hundreds of prisoners freed as well. Though thousands of miles apart from one another, the prison breaks in these three countries reflect dismally on the states’ capacity to govern – and on US stabilization efforts, say analysts. 

“We are watching countries that have crucial implications for US security,” says William C. Martel, an associate professor of international security studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “[Countries] that are in the throes of various forms of political, economic, and social disintegration." 

In Pakistan, the assault appears to have caught prison officials off-guard, despite reports indicating that intelligence services had been warned of prison attacks two weeks ago, according to the BBC. Some worry that the guards' inability to suppress the attack points to Pakistan’s faltering capacity to maintain security and stability against the threat of insurgency.

Highly coordinated and sophisticated in their execution, the attackers cut the prison’s power lines and breached the walls with explosive devices, reports Reuters. Dozens of attackers armed with bombs, grenades, and machine guns – many of them dressed as police – flooded the prison, freeing hundreds of inmates, including many TTP fighters.

This is only the latest in a series of prison breaks that have been carried out in the past week by Islamist insurgents.

In Iraq last week, coordinated attacks were carried out on the notorious Abu Ghraib and another nearby prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. According to The Christian Science Monitor, operatives from the Al Qaeda-aligned Islamic State in Iraq carried out simultaneous assaults on the two prisons, freeing hundreds of prisoners, many of whom were insurgents locked away during the US occupation and the civil war of 2006-2008

A few days later, a prison riot led to the escape of more than 1,000 inmates from a detention center in Benghazi, Libya. Angry about their proximity to the prison facility, residents near Kuafiya prison stormed the building as prisoners inside rioted. Since the reign of long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi ended in 2011, Benghazi has been plagued by instability, writes Voice of America.

Benghazi has seen a wave of violence since last year, with numerous attacks on security forces, as well as foreign targets, including the assault on the U.S. mission last September in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

Though there isn’t evidence to suggest coordination between the three cases, the prison breaks cast doubts on these countries’ ability to rule.

“[These events] suggest that the capacity of these countries to provide political, economic, and social order is fragile,” says Dr. Martel.

The continued instability of these countries also calls into question the efficacy of US foreign assistance strategies.

Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan are all recipients of vast amounts of US foreign aid. Indeed, Pakistan and Iraq are consistently in the top five recipients of aid from the US. In 2012 alone, Pakistan received $2.1 billion, down from 2010’s $4.3 billion, while Iraq received approximately $1.7 billion.

Yet the countries have not yet gotten on their feet, and in some cases have appeared to have regressed. Yesterday, The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy reported on an audit of US foreign aid to Afghanistan that showed how billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted:

Last week, SIGAR reported that millions of dollars given to Afghan contractors to place grates over culverts to prevent explosives being hidden inside of them were misspent, likely leading to the deaths of US and other forces when grates were either not installed or installed improperly. At the end of June, SIGAR reported that the Pentagon was moving forward with a $772 million purchase of aircraft for the Afghan military "even though the Afghans lack the capacity to operate and maintain them."

... And those are just the recent findings from SIGAR that have caught my eye. The government's inspector general, created to monitor the billions of dollars flowing to the Afghan war effort, has been churning out high quality reports for years, and if you read enough of them, the picture that emerges is one of weak monitoring, duplicitous contractors, hundreds of millions spent on facilities the US military won't use, or the Afghans don't want, or can't feasibly use.

However, this does not reflect on the utility of all foreign aid, says Martel, citing Germany, Japan, and South Korea as successful examples. Rather, “this does cast doubt on the foreign assistance strategies we are pursuing now.” 

“If it was a good idea to stay in Germany and Japan for a half century,” asks Martel, “wouldn’t it be a good idea to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

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