Suicide attack on UN begs the question: How safe is Herat, Afghanistan?

Four militants attacked the United Nations compound in Herat, Afghanistan Saturday in the most serious incident on a UN facility since the Oct. 2009 attack on a Kabul guesthouse that killed several employees.

Reza Shirmohammadi/AP
Afghan security forces secure an entrance next to the wreckage of a suicide bomber's vehicle at a UN compound in Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday. Afghan security forces killed the attackers and no U.N. employees were harmed, officials said.

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The United Nations has said it will maintain its programs and presence in Herat, Afghanistan following a Saturday attack on its compound in the peaceful area near the Iranian border. The attack further unsettled many international aid organizations that are already considering scaling back their operations when a ban by President Hamid Karzai on the use of private security guards takes effect at the end of the year.

Two Afghan policemen were injured Saturday in what was the most serious attack on a UN facility since the Oct. 2009 attack on a Kabul guesthouse that killed several employees and prompted the mission to evacuate many workers, according to the Washington Post. But the UN says no staff were hurt after four militants launched rocket-propelled grenades, crashed a car bomb into the UN complex’s gate, and attempted to detonate suicide vests hidden under burqas. A smaller weekend staff was in the compound at the time.

Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi, speaking to the Agence France-Press, took credit for for the attack. Earlier this year, AFP reminds us, the Taliban announced that all foreigners, including diplomats and aid workers and the Afghans who work for them, were considered viable targets in their battle against the Western-backed government in Kabul.

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The UN, meanwhile, pledged to stay in Herat.

“The United Nations is in Afghanistan to support efforts to achieve peace, to assist the people of Afghanistan with urgent humanitarian aid and to support long-term development to help make the lives of all Afghan people better. ...The United Nations will continue to maintain its presence and programs in Herat for the benefit of the population in need and in support of the Afghan authorities,” UN Special Representative Staffan de Mistura said in a statement.

But many international aid groups are growing increasingly concerned about security.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Western officials have been pressing Karzai to back down on the restrictions on the use of private security guards, which are prompting many development and humanitarian groups to consider halting or diminishing projects in the country. The Times adds:

This year has been a perilous one for foreign aid workers in Afghanistan. In August, insurgent gunmen killed a 10-member medical team, including six Americans, in Badakhshan province, in the north. This month, a Scottish development worker was killed during an attempt by US troops to rescue her after she was abducted by the Taliban.

Herat has until now been considered such a relatively peaceful part of the country, the Times notes, that NATO forces are considering it as a first place to hand responsibility over to Afghan forces.

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