UN to boost Afghan security after Kabul attack

Thu Oct 29, 2009 6:13pm EDT

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(For full coverage of Afghanistan, click on [nAFPAK])

* 27 U.N. civilians killed this year

* Ban has Security Council's support for move

(Recasts with Ban press conference)

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The United Nations plans to boost its security staff in Afghanistan after Taliban militants' deadly attack on a U.N. guesthouse earlier this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.

The additional security units were needed in Afghanistan to meet the "dramatically escalated threat to U.N. staff now widely considered to be a soft target," Ban told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors.

He declined to say how many more security officers would be needed, though he said it was likely that both U.N. and private security would be sent to protect staff in Afghanistan, where five U.N. workers were killed on Wednesday when Taliban militants attacked a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul.

"Increasingly, the U.N. is being targeted, in this case precisely because of our support for the Afghan elections," he said, referring to the Nov. 7 run-off presidential election.

He said that Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan had become the most dangerous place on the planet for the United Nations' civilian staff.

"Not counting peacekeepers, 27 U.N. civilian personnel have lost their lives to violence so far this year, more than half of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.

Among the short-term measures that would be implemented in Afghanistan, Ban said, is to consolidate U.N. workers spread across the country.

Ban said he asked for and received the Security Council's support. He added that he would urge the U.N. General Assembly on Friday to approve his request for additional security, which diplomats said would require extra funding.

The secretary-general said he spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who assured him that security would be tightened for the United Nations in Afghanistan. He also appealed to the U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan for help.

"Primary responsibility for the safety and security of U.N. staff falls on the Afghanistan government," said Ban. "But at the same time we need support from the Afghanistan security forces as well as the international community."

Ban said he would meet on Friday with the heads of all U.N. funds and agencies to review the "evolving security environment" at all of the world body's facilities.

Earlier on Thursday, Ban's spokeswoman Michele Montas was asked if there was a possibility that Afghanistan's Nov. 7 vote could be postponed, Montas said: "As far as I know, no."

"We're still continuing our electoral support," she said.

The resurgent Taliban have vowed to disrupt the Afghan run-off election as U.S. President Barack Obama weighs whether to send more troops to Afghanistan to fight an insurgency that has reached its fiercest level in eight years. (Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Philip Barbara)