Afghan violence threatens credibility of vote

KABUL — The Taliban's brazen attack on U.N. election workers undermines the U.N.' s ability to help steer Afghanistan through a runoff election in only 10 days. Although the U.N. insists it will not be deterred by the assault, another big attack could derail its limited ability to assure a credible vote and remain in the country.

Most of the U.N.' s international staff in Afghanistan were ordered to stay home Thursday, a day after militants stormed a residential hotel housing U.N. employees, killing five of them, including one American. Six other people died, including the three attackers.

The lockdown does not apply to the 140 U.N. personnel helping the Afghans prepare for the Nov. 7 presidential runoff, according to U.N. spokesman Dan McNorton. Time is running out to arrange a ballot that already faces threats ranging from Taliban violence to possibly early winter snow.

"They're going to warehouses or meetings, or the airport to check on logistics," McNorton said of U.N. election workers.

He said technical advisers will be sent to the provinces in time for the vote, although all assignments will be reviewed to make sure the staff is reasonably safe.

"Yesterday was obviously a disruption, but the work and the support that we're providing remains strong and is working," he said.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for more security personnel to protect U.N. staff and facilities in Afghanistan, especially in the run-up to next week's election. He said the U.N. will also be consolidating its staff in Kabul and around the country.

Wednesday's attack was only the latest in a series of setbacks suffered by the U.N. mission assisting the Afghans in running an election on their own for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion brought down the Taliban government in late 2001.

The U.N. presence, which includes several hundred foreign staff, is essential to ensure the election meets an acceptable standard of fairness. Without that, the government's legitimacy as a credible partner with the U.S. and its allies in the fight against the Taliban would be in doubt.

So far, the U.N. has not ordered a general evacuation of its international staff, but those not working on the election have been encouraged to take vacations or work outside the country until the runoff is over.