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UN exodus

Following last week's attack on a United Nations guesthouse, the UN has announced a new security plan for its staff, which Al Jazeera has learned is likely to radically reduce the size of its operations in Afghanistan.

Last modified: 5 Nov 2009 09:04
Photo by AFP

The UN has announced a new security plan for its staff, which Al Jazeera has learned is likely to radically reduce the size of its operations in Afghanistan.

In a brief statement, the UN in Kabul says:

“The United Nations is taking additional steps to reduce risks to its national and international staff serving in Afghanistan.”

Al Jazeera has learned from high-level sources that it will mean the relocation of non-essential international staff. Under the new plan, it’s believed more than half of non-Afghan personnel at all the UN agencies working in Afghanistan, could be leaving the country. The number expected to depart is thought to be about 600.

The UN will not officially confirm the numbers that are leaving.

“Although details of the new measures can not be made public, it is expected that they will involve short-term relocations for some staff while additional security is being put in place.”

Al Jazeera understands that although the reduction in staffing has been announced as a temporary measure, the UN is planning to set up a new hub in Dubai, which is likely to conduct some of the work previously done in Kabul.

It follows an urgent security review after last week’s Taliban attack on a guesthouse in the centre of Kabul, which was used by UN staff. 5 UN workers were among 9 people killed.

The word from New York is that the plan was one of the main reasons that the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon made a surprise visit to Afghanistan.

Many UN workers live in guesthouses and private homes. Those that remain in Kabul are likely to be moved to a secure compound. More of these “barracks-style” bases will now be constructed.

Many other non-government organisations and aid agencies are likely to review their security and their operations when the UN activates its new security plan.

Afghan and international forces remain on high alert. They fear the Taliban have been emboldened by last week's guesthouse attack. UN staff have been warned that more suicide attackers may be hiding inside the capital city.

The White House has been urgently reassessing its strategy in recent weeks - the fifth US policy review in the last 12 months. Much of the talk has been about troop numbers. But another element of American policy may now have been undermined by the UN’s announcement. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke repeatedly talks about a “civilian surge”. However, the civilians are now beginning to leave.