UN compound in Herat, Afghanistan attacked by ‘anti-government elements’

Politics

A security guard stands outside the United Nations building in Herat, Afghanistan on October 23, 2010.
Chris Hondros | Getty Images

The main UN compound in Herat, Afghanistan was attacked by “anti-government elements” on Friday and at least one security guard was killed, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA.

Rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire were used to target the entrances of the provincial compound, which was clearly marked as a UN facility, according to UNAMA. Heavy fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces was also seen near the compound.

No UN personnel were injured in the attack, and UNAMA said it was urgently seeking to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable. 

“This attack against the United Nations is deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest terms,” said Deborah Lyons, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan in UNAMA’s statement. “Our first thoughts are with the family of the officer slain and we wish a speedy recovery to those injured.”

Lyons added that attacks against UN personnel and compounds are prohibited under international law, and may amount to war crimes. 

The attack comes as U.S. and coalition forces near the end of their withdrawal from Afghanistan, with Afghan security forces struggling to hold back Taliban fighters that continue to make stunning advances on provincial capitals in the war-torn country. 

An Afghan security forces member keeps watch in an army vehicle in Bagram U.S. air base, after American troops vacated it, in Parwan province, Afghanistan July 5, 2021.
Mohammad Ismail | Reuter

Herat is the second provincial capital the Taliban has raided in the last 24 hours, according to Reuters. Taliban fighters entered Lashkargah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand, just a day earlier.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the incident in Herat could have occurred due to crossfire, and claimed that the compound was “safe” and had “no problems” after Taliban fighters arrived.

“UNAMA office was located near the battlefield, which may have been damaged by the guards during the war and the reciprocal fire,” Mujahid said on Twitter. “But when the Mojahedin arrived there, the office was safe, they did not have to worry.”

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement that the U.S. “strongly condemns the attack” and emphasized the need to end the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. 

“We reiterate our call for an immediate reduction in violence in Afghanistan, and for all regional actors to encourage the parties to return to negotiations without delay so that the Afghan people can achieve a durable and just political settlement that brings the peace and security they deserve,” Sullivan said.

A U.N. report released earlier this week shows that civilian casualties in Afghanistan have reached record level highs in the first half of 2021, with a spike in May when the U.S. withdrawal began. The report did not cover casualties in July, when the fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces only intensified.

In April, Biden announced a full withdrawal of approximately 3,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. He gave an updated timeline earlier this month, saying that the job would be done by Aug. 31.

The nation’s highest military officer said last week that the U.S. has completed more than 95% of the withdrawal. Until it is finished, the U.S. is continuing to support Afghan forces with combat aircraft.

On Thursday, the U.S. launched overnight airstrikes against Taliban targets. 

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