June 20, 2010 / 1:47 AM / 9 years ago

U.N. to cut staff in Afghanistan over security fears

KABUL (Reuters) - Already facing chronic staff shortages, the United Nations has said it plans to withdraw some of its foreign workers from Afghanistan following sustained reports of insurgent threats against its workforce.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon smiles as he attends a news conference in Vienna April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

In a report on Afghanistan released over the weekend, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world body continued to be a potential target for militant attacks across the country and it would be cutting the size of its international staff.

The United Nations evacuated hundreds of its staff last November, days after Taliban gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul killing five of the organization’s foreign staff.

While scores of those workers have now returned to Afghanistan, others quit their posts over security fears or left after their contracts ran out, leaving the organization critically understaffed.

Credible reports of threats by militants “continue to mention that the United Nations presence country-wide is a possible target of further attacks,” said Ban in a quarterly report to the 15-nation U.N. Security Council.

“The volatile security environment translates into a high security risk for United Nations personnel, assets and operations.”

The United Nations was planning to relocate “certain support operations,” possibly in the next three months, to Kuwait, where the U.N. mission for Iraq is based, Ban said, adding the move would not affect the mission.

The report did not say how many foreign staff would likely be withdrawn but a U.N. spokesman in Kabul, Dan McNorton, said it “would not be that many,” adding those that would leave “don’t have to be in Afghanistan to carry out critical work.”

In March the United Nations said there were between 900 and 1,000 foreign staff in the country, short of the 1,100 before last year’s attack. McNorton did not have an exact number of how many staff were now based in the country.

However, the U.N. mission had trouble recruiting staff even before last year’s attack and Ban said candidates’ reluctance to move to Afghanistan because of security fears was hampering aid delivery on the ground.

As of May 16, the international staff vacancy rate was over one-third, at 39 percent, and the vacancy rate for Afghan employees stood at 30 percent, the report said.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst levels since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001, with an “alarming” rise in insurgent bomb attacks as well as suicide raids, Ban also said in the report.

Editing by David Fox and Peter Graff

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