- By Colum LynchColum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. He previously wrote FP’s Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He was also the silver medal recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize for a three-part series documenting the U.N.’s systemic failure to protect civilians in Darfur, Sudan. Colum’s investigations have uncovered an American spy operation in Iraq, Russia’s monopoly of the $1 billion-a-year U.N. aircraft leasing market, and a Chinese diplomatic campaign to silence U.N. investigators scrutinizing Chinese arms deals in Africa. His deep digs into the U.N. bureaucracy have exposed sexual misconduct by U.N. blue helmets from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and documented monumental dysfunction in the U.N. office charged with rooting out misconduct and corruption. He now devotes his reporting chops to documenting President Donald Trump’s efforts to reorder the international system. Born in Los Angeles, Colum received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. Before moving to FP, Colum reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. He has appeared frequently on national news programs, including the Lehrer NewsHour, as well as on MSNBC, NPR, and the BBC.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on the Kabul compound of the U.N. affiliated International Organization for Migration, killing one Afghan police officer, injuring three of the agency’s staff members and an employee of the International Labor Organization (IOM), the U.N. announced. Several U.N. and Afghan security officials were also injured.
The incident marked one of the deadliest attack against a facility associated with the United Nations since Oct. 28, 2009, when armed Taliban militants broke into a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul and opened fire on U.N. personnel and their Afghan guards.[*See note below]. Five U.N. personnel died in that incident, including an American, Louis Maxwell, who was killed by the Afghan police who mistook him for a Taliban fighter.
Today’s action heightened U.N. concerns about the safety of its workers at a time when the United States and its Western military allies are beginning to draw down in Afghanistan. The United Nations is expected to play a more active role after the United States completes its withdrawal by the end of 2014.
In a statement issued in Kabul, Jan Kubis, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative to Afghanistan condemned "today’s terrorist attack centered on a compound of the International Organization for Migration. He said the four injured international staffers, including one IOM worker who sustained serious injuries, are receiving medical care. All other U.N. staff members in Kabul have been accounted for, he said.
"The Taliban have claimed responsibility, alleging that their target was a ‘military rest house,’" he said. "The situation is reported to be under the control of Afghan security forces. The mopping up operation continues, with sporadic fire being heard." A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters the Taliban forces were targeting a compound used by the CIA. Reuters also reported that the assault began with a car bomb explosion outside the compound housing the IOM.
Following the 2009 attack in Kabul, the United Nations withdrew some staff from the country, relocated others to more fortified facilities, and bolstered their security arrangements, which are provided by Afghan police and Nepalese Gurkhas working under a private contract.
In October 2010, Taliban militants launched an attack on a U.N. compound in the town of Herat, striking the facility’s gate with a car bomb to allow suicide bombers disguised as women into the compound. Though Afghan police were injured, the attack was effectively repelled by U.N. guards and Afghan police.
Following today’s assault, Kubis expressed "gratitude" for the quick response by "UN security personnel, including Gurkha guards provided by the firm IDG Security, and Afghan forces." He also expressed "sympathies to all the IDG security personnel, Afghan police and security forces injured while bravely responding to this terrorist attack."
[Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that this was the deadliest attack on a U.N. facility since 2009. On April 1, 2011, a mob protesting the burning of a Koran by a Florida pastor stormed a U.N. compound in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, killing three international staffers and four Nepalese Gurkha soldiers." Turtle Bay regrets the error.
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