KABUL - The United Nations announced on Thursday it will evacuate more than half its international staff based in Afghanistan after a deadly Taliban attack on a guest house for UN workers.
But the UN said it had no intention of 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.
There was no immediate breakdown, but McNorton 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," he said, adding the evacuations will begin immediately.
The UN has about 5,600 staff in Afghanistan, about 80 percent of whom are Afghans, and the relocations will affect around 12 percent of total deployment.
The decision would be reviewed regularly and was expected to be effective for "a number of weeks while additional security is being put in place," McNorton said. Related article: Iraq model for Afghanistan
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 while these additional security steps are being taken," it said.
The move comes eight days after Taliban suicide 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 the evacuation 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.
"We will do what we can to avoid disruption of our work," he added.
Those measures include moving UN staff out of guesthouses and into large, tightly guarded compounds, and reassessing what operations could be directed from a base in Dubai, UN staff told AFP.
Eide has come under criticism over the UN's role in Afghanistan's chaotic election. Hamid Karzai was re-elected president after his challenger withdrew from a run-off, following a first round marred by massive fraud.
Eide on Thursday stepped up warnings that Karzai could lose international support unless his new government seriously tackles corruption. Related article: Future depends on Karzai
"I believe we are now at the critical juncture in the relationship between Afghanistan and the international community," he told reporters.
"There is a belief among some that the international commitment to Afghanistan will continue whatever happens because of the strategic importance of Afghanistan," he said.
"I would like to emphasise that is not correct."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held talks with security advisers in Kabul earlier this week following the attack at the Bekhtar guest house.
Speaking in the Afghan capital on Monday, Ban said acts of violence would not deter the UN from its work in the country.
"There has been speculation that the United Nations will evacuate Afghanistan.... We will not be deterred, cannot be deterred and must not be deterred, and the work of the United Nations will continue," said Ban.
In the latest violence, a US soldier serving under NATO was killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, the force said Thursday, as authorities reported dozens of militants killed in separate incidents.
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 so far this year.
It is the deadliest of an eight-year anti-insurgency campaign being fought by NATO and US-led forces.