UN in Afghanistan to evacuate 600 foreign staff

7th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

The UN insisted it was not abandoning Afghanistan, where 100,000 US-led foreign troops are battling a bloody insurgency eight years after the extremist Taliban regime was driven from power.

Kabul -- The United Nations announced Thursday it will evacuate more than half its international staff based in Afghanistan after a deadly Taliban attack on UN workers, prompting a dismayed reaction from NATO.

The UN insisted it was not abandoning Afghanistan, where 100,000 US-led foreign troops are battling a bloody insurgency eight years after the extremist Taliban regime was driven from power.

About 600 expatriate staff, from a total of 1,100 foreigners, will be temporarily relocated either within Afghanistan or abroad, UN spokesman Dan McNorton told AFP.

He said the vast majority would be leaving the country on a temporary basis.

"The only people who will remain are regarded as essential staff. This is to ensure the safety of all our staff in Afghanistan," McNorton said, adding the evacuations would begin immediately.

The UN has about 5,600 employees in Afghanistan, about 80 percent of whom are Afghans, and the relocations will affect around 12 percent of the total deployment.

The decision was likely to be effective for "a number of weeks while additional security is being put in place," McNorton said.

In a statement, the UN said it was "fully committed to helping all of Afghanistan's people, as it has been for more than half a century.

"Every effort will be made to minimise disruption to our activities."

The measures include moving UN staff into large, tightly guarded compounds, and reassessing what operations could be directed from a base in Dubai, UN staff told AFP.

But a top NATO general reacted with dismay, saying the alliance's efforts had to go hand-in-hand with civilian work.

"I am not very satisfied," German General Egon Ramms told journalists at the Innich command bunker on the Dutch-German border.

"By withdrawing personnel from Afghanistan it will not be able to reach the progress and success we need.... Reconstruction and security rely on each other," he said.

And there was a further sign of strain among Western allies as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner reportedly hit out at the United States and Germany for failing to coordinate on NATO policy.

Kouchner complained that President Barack Obama's US administration was trying to draw up a new strategy for Afghanistan without consulting European allies in NATO.

"What is the goal? What is the road? And in the name of what?" Kouchner asked, according to the New York Times. "Where are the Americans? It begins to be a problem.... We need to talk to each other as allies."

The UN announcement came eight days after Taliban gunmen stormed a Kabul hostel in a dawn attack that killed five UN workers.

The head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, denied it amounted to a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"We are not pulling out and will not pull out," he told reporters.

"The UN is putting in place immediate additional security measures for its international and Afghan staff," he said.

Non-governmental organisations based in Afghanistan employ few foreigners and are not planning to follow the UN's lead in removing them, a coalition representing 100 NGOs told AFP.

"They will not decrease their activities at all," said Hashin Myar, deputy director of ACBAR, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held talks with security advisers in Kabul earlier this week following the attack at the Bekhtar guesthouse. He said acts of violence would not deter the UN from its work in the country.

In the latest unrest, a US soldier serving under NATO was killed in an attack in eastern Afghanistan, the force said Thursday, while Karzai ordered a probe into the deaths of nine civilians killed by a rocket attack.

The death of the American soldier, part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), took to 460 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this year.

A manhunt was under way for a rogue Afghan policeman with suspected Taliban links who killed five British soldiers Tuesday, fuelling doubts about the West's exit strategy from Afghanistan.

It is the deadliest year in an eight-year anti-insurgency campaign being fought by NATO and US-led forces.

Waheedullah Massoud/AFP/Expatica

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