Analysis: Taleban Attack is Bid to Force UN Out of Afghanistan

Published on
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TimesOnline/UK

Analysis: Taleban Attack is Bid to Force UN Out of Afghanistan

by
Jeremy Page in Kabul

The Taleban attack on an international guesthouse in Kabul today is its
bloodiest assault yet on the United Nations in Afghanistan - and represents
a major escalation of its campaign to disrupt next week's presidential
election run-off.

The attack, which killed 12 people including six UN staff, appears to be
designed to force the UN to pull out of Afghanistan altogether - just as it
did from Iraq after a truck bomb at its headquarters there killed 22 people
in 2003.

A complete UN withdrawal from Afghanistan would almost certainly force the
cancellation, or postponement, of the November 7 vote, which the UN is
funding and has hundreds of staff helping to organize.

Some of those staying in the Bekhtar guesthouse were from UNDP Elect - the
part of the UN directly involved in the poll.

But even if the UN does not withdraw, today's attack will seriously complicate
and delay international efforts to organise a more credible run-off
following the fraud-ridden first round in August.

Among other efforts, UN officials are trying to persuade the Independent
Election Commission to close polling stations where the worst fraud
occurred, and to sack the election officials responsible.

Kai Eide, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, pledged today that the
attack would not deter the UN from its commitment to Afghanistan.

In practice, however, the entire UN operation in Kabul will be paralysed for
several days - if not weeks - as its security consultants review the safety
of staff accommodation.

The UN has already imposed a "white city" lockdown, which forbids staff from
moving around Kabul, and instructed all foreign staff to pack their bags in
case of evacuation. Staff due to fly in from Dubai have been told to wait.

Many other aid agencies and non-governmental organisations have taken similar
steps.

Even when the UN lifts its lockdown, it is unclear where will be deemed safe
for its estimated 2,000 staff in Kabul to stay.

Other guesthouses and small hotels have similar security arrangements to the
Bekhtar, and there is not enough room in the more secure UN office
compounds.

The few large hotels have almost all been attacked at least once and have
boosted their security accordingly, but are still considered high profile
targets.

The Taleban also fired two rockets today at the Serena - the only five star
hotel in Kabul - forcing guests to be evacuated into an underground bunker.

The Serena has stepped up security since a militant attack killed seven people
in January last year, but is still vulnerable as it is right next to the
presidential palace and a busy road.

That is why the Bekhtar guesthouse was such a good target for the Taleban: it
was both poorly guarded, and high impact.

By hitting such a soft target, the Taleban's strategy appears to mirror that
of its Pakistani counterparts, who have also targeted the UN in the last few
weeks.

The UN has shut down most of its operations in the northwest, following a
series of attacks, including a suicide bombing at the World Food Programme
offices in Islamabad this month.

Militants in Afghanistan are also using similar tactics to their Pakistani
counterparts, apparently disguising today's attackers with police uniforms,
and using a combination of gunmen and suicide bombers.

That either suggests that the same group is responsible, most likely the al
Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, or that the Afghan and the Pakistani Taleban
are coordinating their efforts to a greater degree.

Either way, militants on both side of the border have made it clear that they
see the UN as a legitimate, and easy, target.

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