At least five United Nations staff members were killed today in an attack on a guest house in Kabul that has drawn widespread condemnation from top officials, as well as a pledge that the world body will continue its vital work in the country.
Several UN staff members were also injured in the attack, which was reportedly carried out early this morning by three Taliban militants with suicide vests, grenades and machine guns.
The UN said it could not at this stage provide the names or nationalities of the victims.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his outrage at the “cowardly attack” and conveyed his deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the despicable and brutal killing, for which the Taliban has claimed responsibility in an apparent effort to disrupt the second round of the presidential election,” he said in a statement.
Afghans are scheduled to go to the polls on 7 November for the presidential run-off between incumbent Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah.
“No one underestimates the difficulties, especially in the aftermath of today’s attack,” Mr. Ban told a news conference in New York. “At this point, I would simply say that all operational preparations are being put in place to minimize fraud.”
The run-off was announced last week after the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) found evidence of fraud in the first round of voting conducted on 20 August.
“I urge Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Karzai to uphold the law and the Constitution, to encourage participation of the Afghan people, and, after the vote, to work to unify the country around an agenda for progress,” said Mr. Ban.
He added that the men and women who gave their lives today came to Afghanistan armed not with guns or bullets. “They came with a more powerful weapon – hope. Hope for a better day for Afghanistan and a commitment to help its people build a better world and a better future.
“We will not be deterred from this noble mission,” he vowed. “We will continue our work, particularly on helping the Afghan Government and people, carrying on this second presidential election… while ensuring and strengthening the safety and security of our premises.”
The UN Volunteers (UNV) programme confirmed that two of its staff members were among those killed in the attack, while another was wounded. Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri expressed condolences on behalf of the organization’s 8,000 volunteers and staff to the families of the victims.
The two volunteers were supporting the work of UNDP/ELECT, the project run by the UN Development Programme through which the international community supports Afghan elections.
Also voicing her outrage at today’s attack was the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who expressed the agency’s grave concern about a colleague who was in the guest house and is presently unaccounted for.
“UNICEF is working in Afghanistan to assist women and children in urgent need of our support especially in health and education. Attacks like this one set our work back and inflict further damage on an already fragile State,” Ann M. Veneman said in a statement.
Josette Sheeran, the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), decried the “murderous assault” on humanitarian staff in Kabul.
“Our thoughts are with the families of those killed and injured in the attacks, as well as with our colleagues at partner agencies in Afghanistan who must now find the strength to carry forward the crucial work of the United Nations,” said Ms. Sheeran, whose own staff are still recovering from the 5 October attack on the agency’s office in Islamabad, Pakistan, which killed five staff members and critically injured others.
Also speaking out against today’s attack was the Security Council, which “strongly condemned the attempts in particular by the Taliban to disrupt the electoral process and destabilize the situation in Afghanistan.”
In a statement read out to the press by Ambassador Le Luong Minh of Viet Nam, which holds the Council presidency this month, the 15-member body Council reiterated that no terrorist act can reverse the path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Afghanistan.