UN reduces Kandahar staff over security concerns; NATO troops roll

Kandahar is a city on the knife’s edge. With rising violence and NATO’s unfolding offensive in the area has prompted the United Nations and other relief organizations to step out of the way.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Kandahar is a city on the knife’s edge.

With rising violence and NATO’s unfolding offensive in the area has prompted the United Nations and other relief organizations to step out of the way.

The United Nations is in the process of cutting its foreign staff level in the southern city as part of a security review, said a spokeswoman for the UN mission in the capital Kabul.

“There has been a temporary reduction,” Susan Manuel said in a telephone interview Sunday. “We’re trying to determine the profile of the staff, or who needs to be there doing what.”

Last week, NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, declared the operation to root out insurgents in Kandahar was underway. But rather than opening with a D-Day-like assault as in Marjah, next door in Helmand province, he said the offensive in Kandahar would be rolled out in stages.

Manuel said the UN security review is not reaction to the military push as much as it’s a response to the overall situation in Kandahar, which is the spiritual home of the Taliban. A series of five co-ordinated bombings in the city on March 13-14 left 35 people dead and scores wounded.

She did not discuss numbers involved in the draw down, but other aid groups say it’s expected to be more than a dozen.

There are just over 100 staff working for the world body in the city, including 37 people from other countries. The reduction affects the international staff, not local Afghans.

At least one human rights group is alarmed and said the staff cut comes when an ill-prepared city faces a tide of people fleeing the fighting.

“There will be an inadequate response from the international community and the Afghanistan government doesn’t have the capacity to respond,” Ajmal Samadi, director of Afghanistan Rights Monitor in Kabul.

“The UN should alleviate the suffering, not retreat from it. It shouldn’t leave people behind.”

But Manuel said UN-sponsored programs will continue. Last month, Tooryalai Wesa, the Afghan-Canadian governor of Kandahar announced a stockpiling of tents, medicine and foodstuffs in advance of the NATO military drive.