New York: It took an hour for Afghan and NATO forces to respond to a Taliban attack on a guest house occupied by the UN staff in Kabul, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has complained and sought additional funds to beef up security for the world body employees in conflict zones.
"The UN security team (in the guest house) repeatedly called for help from both Afghanistan government forces and other international partners," Ban told the General Assembly yesterday, two days after the Taliban militants wearing suicide vests stormed the building in the heart of the Afghan capital killing 12 people, including five UN staff.
"We are still sorting out the facts, but initial reports suggest that it was approximately an hour, if not longer, before Afghan police or others arrived on the scene," he said.
The Kabul guest house attack follow the terror strike on World Food Programme office in the Pakistani capital Islamabad in which the UN had lost another five of its members.
This year, not counting peacekeepers, 27 civilian staffers have been killed, more than half in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Calling for more security units to guard UN facilities and guest houses, Ban has appealed to both the Security Council and General Assembly to allocate more resources to better protect UN workers in conflict zones. Staff who survived the Kabul attack, which came ahead of the November 7 Presidential run-off election, have now been flown out of the country and movement of all other UN employees in Afghanistan remains restricted, according to the UN.
"For at least an hour, and perhaps more, those two security officers (at the guest house) held off the attackers. They fought through the corridors of the building and from the rooftop," the UN Secretary-General told the General Assembly.
"They held off the attackers long enough for their colleagues to escape, armed only with pistols against assailants carrying automatic weapons and grenades and wearing suicide vests," he added.
The UN chief separately told journalists that he had requested additional funding to augment the security and safety capacity of the United Nations premises and staff. "It is absolutely necessary at this time."
"I am very much encouraged by the unreserved support and cooperation of the member states. They said that they will positively consider my additional budgetary support," he added.
Describing the UN as a "soft target", Ban asked for USD 50 million for more effective screening into UN facilities, more money to handle times of crises, emergency fund for the Department of Safety and Security, higher pay packages for persons working in dangerous zones, and setting up a fund with an initial amount of USD 10 million to help victims and their families.
Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged his full support for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), a significant re-appraisal of the situation on the ground is taking place at the UN headquarters.
Ban convened an emergency meeting of the heads of UN departments, agencies, funds and programmes to assess their security staffing needs.
"We shall decide whether staff who are not critically needed in country should leave," he said, noting that employees not directly engaged in critical, election-related duties are being encouraged to take leave.
At a UN staff town hall meeting, a moment of silence was observed for the five fallen UN workers in the Kabul attack.
Four of the deceased were identified as Jossie Esto from Philippines with UN Development Programme; Lewis Maxwell, a close protection officer from the United States; Laurance Mefful, a UN security officer from Ghana; and Lydia Wonwene, a UNDP elections officer from Liberia. The identity of the fifth victim is still being confirmed.
First Published: Saturday, October 31, 2009, 13:21