KABUL, Afghanistan — A week after pre-dawn attack killed five members of its Kabul staff, the United Nations on Thursday announced plans to scale back its operations in the city temporarily while it re-evaluates dangers in the country.
Although the U.N. said the decision to relocate about half of its international staff shouldn't be seen as a diplomatic retreat, the move comes amid concerns that the deadly attack has emboldened Taliban fighters, who may try to strike again.
"They realize that if they hit the United Nations again, there's a serious risk of the United Nations leaving the country," said one diplomat in Kabul, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity so that he could speak candidly about the U.N. plans.
One of the biggest worries is that insurgents in Afghanistan are trying to duplicate the strategy of Iraqi extremists who forced the United Nations to close its Iraqi operations in 2003 after a truck bomb hit the U.N. headquarters and killed 22 people, including the top U.N. official in the country.
If the U.N. were to pull out of Afghanistan, it would force all other international aid groups to rethink their work in the country and would undermine President Hamid Karzai's shaky government.
Kai Eide, the Norwegian diplomat who heads the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, said there were no plans to abandon the country.
"We are not talking about pulling out," Eide said at a news conference in Kabul. Instead, he said, the U.N. is going to relocate hundreds of international workers while it figures out how to protect the staff better.
The United Nations has about 1,200 international staff members in Afghanistan. About 600 nonessential staff will be relocated temporarily to other parts of Afghanistan or to nearby regional offices, said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the U.N. operation in Afghanistan.
Currently, much of the staff lives in a well-known network of small, lightly guarded guesthouses, spread across Kabul.
Last week, three militants wearing Afghan police uniforms exploited the vulnerability of the guesthouses by scaling the walls of one compound and staging an attack that killed five United Nations workers, two Afghan security guards and the relative of an Afghan politician.
Afghan officials said six men had been arrested and accused of planning the attack.