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United Nations mission in Afghanistan relocating workers after Kabul attack

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Afghans were protesting what they said were civilian deaths in the south and the east of the country Thursday. Meanwhile, the U.N. announced it was relocating staff following a deadly attack on one of its guest houses in the capital.

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By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 6, 2009

KABUL -- The U.N. mission in Afghanistan is relocating hundreds of staff members, including sending many outside the country, after an attack last week on a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul that killed five members of its international staff.

The U.N. decision was another sign of the Taliban's ability to use violence against civilians to curtail humanitarian and development work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. International staff members from many aid organizations, both public and private, have limited their movements and activities as attacks on civilians have increased in the region.

The United Nations has about 1,100 international staff members in Afghanistan, and about 600 of them will be moved to more-secure locations, said Aleem Siddique, a U.N. spokesman. Some will be moved from their homes to fortified U.N. compounds, provincial offices or a hotel in Kabul, while others are being sent elsewhere in Central Asia or to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

"There's going to be a lot of upheaval, but the priority has to be the safety of the staff," Siddique said.

U.N. officials said they hoped the relocations would be a temporary measure, lasting four to six weeks, while they develop tighter security measures. They said they do not plan to stop aid programs but rather to move nonessential employees such as administrative, personnel and financial staff.

The Oct. 28 attack on the guesthouse, one of more than 90 such U.N. houses in Kabul, was carried out by three men with suicide belts, rifles and grenades. Their dawn assault, which killed eight people, was organized by the Taliban faction led by Jalaluddin Haqqani along with an al-Qaeda operative, according to Afghan intelligence officials. Six people were arrested in connection with the case.

Since that morning, the United Nations has enacted strict security measures for its employees, including a restriction on staff members leaving their homes. Private companies in Kabul also have evacuated foreign staff members.

In southern Afghanistan on Thursday, the U.S. military confronted potentially inflammatory allegations that a missile attack aimed at insurgents killed nine civilians, including children. The single rocket, fired at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, landed in Babaji village in Helmand province and targeted a group of nine people thought to be planting a bomb, the U.S. military said in a statement. The military said it was not aware of civilians in the area but was investigating.

Mohammad Anwar, a parliament member from the province, said he heard the rocket strike and later saw the bodies being unloaded in the nearby city of Lashkar Gah. Mourners were shouting "Down with America," he said.

The bodies "were brought in a truck, and the people were crying, and the dead bodies were men, women and children. I saw them in pieces. I couldn't bear to look very long," he said. "This keeps happening again and again. I don't know what the people should do."

The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has implemented a more restrictive policy for attacking insurgents that is aimed at limiting civilian casualties.

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.


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