- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 27, 2010

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan | The United Nations scaled back its operations in the troubled southern city of Kandahar on Monday, relocating several foreign employees to Kabul and telling more than 200 Afghan U.N. workers to stay home amid rising violence.

The announcement came hours after three bombings — one targeting a local police official — shook the city. The rash of attacks came ahead of a joint Afghan-NATO operation to try to wrest control of the area from Taliban militants. The strategy is to push in troops, oust the militants and rush in new governance, development projects and security to win the loyalty of Kandahar’s half-million residents.

Dan McNorton, a U.N. spokesman in the capital of Kabul, insisted the world body was not pulling out of Kandahar and remained committed to continuing its aid and humanitarian work. He declined to say how many international U.N. employees were still working in Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban.

“Due to the current security situation in Kandahar, we have temporarily relocated several of our non-Afghan staff to Kabul,” Mr. McNorton said. “Our Afghan colleagues have been instructed to remain at home for the time being.

“We will continue to monitor the security situation in Kandahar and hope to be able to get back to work as soon as possible,” he added.

A senior Western official familiar with U.N. operations said 16 U.N. workers in Kandahar were moved to a more heavily secured compound Sunday night and then traveled on to Kabul and perhaps other destinations. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Two of the bombs exploded about 30 feet apart as a convoy of Deputy Provincial Police Chief Fazel Ahmad Sherzad passed by.

“They were targeting the car I normally use, but luckily I was not in it at the time,” Chief Sherzad said.

A roadside bomb exploded first, then a minute later, a motorbike laden with explosives was detonated. The blasts killed two civilians and injured one policeman and one civilian, the Interior Ministry said. About two hours later, a third blast struck in the north of the city, injuring another Afghan policeman.

Since April 12, at least 20 civilians, including eight children, have been killed in Kandahar, according to a count by the Associated Press. Local officials, aid workers and contractors for U.S. development projects have been targeted by Taliban fighters trying to disrupt the upcoming military operation, expected to accelerate this summer.

“The security in this city is deteriorating,” said rickshaw driver Enayutullah Khan, 43. “People leave their homes only to find food for their children. Otherwise we don’t leave the house.”

Rangina Hamidi, who runs a Kandahar-based handicrafts business that employs about 200 women, said many of her workers had been too frightened to come to work in recent days.

“It’s very scary. We don’t know what is happening,” said Ms. Hamidi, whose employees sew embroidered clothing, tablecloths and shawls.

The U.N. has been on the defensive in Afghanistan since October, when three suicide attackers stormed a Kabul guest house where dozens of staffers lived. Five U.N. employees and three Afghan citizens were killed in a two-hour siege.

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