Taliban Targets U.N. Workers In Deadly Attack

Taliban militants stormed an international guest house in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 12 people, including half a dozen U.N. staffers. The Taliban said it was part of an offensive related to the Nov. 7 runoff vote for the presidency. The militants have repeatedly vowed to disrupt the poll.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The White House says a deadly attack on a UN guest house in Kabul, Afghanistan, was intended to disrupt the upcoming runoff election there. The Taliban is claiming responsibility for this attack. Shortly before dawn, men wearing suicide vests and police uniforms stormed the compound. Eleven people were killed, including three attackers. Many of those targeted are helping in preparations for the election on November 7th.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kabul and joins us on the line right now. And Soraya first of all, tell us more about today's attack.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, it began at about 6 A.M. this morning and you had three, or at least three gunmen, who were carrying explosives and they were wearing police uniforms. They approached this guest house in a part of Kabul that is normally pretty safe. Basically, because they were wearing the police uniforms, they throw the guards off-guard and they're able to storm the compound and a very fierce battle ensued. And as a result, you ended up with five UN workers who were killed and - as well as two Afghan security guards and a civilian.

SIEGEL: Now, what do we know about the victims of this attack?

NELSON: Well, the UN workers included at least one American, or I should say, there was at least one American among the people who were killed and the - this compound had a lot of UN workers, who were tasked to help with the election inside. And so, it was very clear that the target was the UN people who were involved with the elections.

SIEGEL: Well, does this represent a real threat to the elections? That wherever there might be people working with the UN and trying to run the election, there could be attacks like this?

NELSON: Well, certainly it's going to make people look a lot more closely at how they act or interact with the election process. I mean, today, for example in Kabul, no foreigners came outside. Everybody was - basically ordered to stay indoors. And the UN - well, it's going to have to review its procedures to see whether or not they'll be able go out into the communities.

SIEGEL: Of course, another question is whether violence of this sort would continue to discourage Afghans from taking part in voting in the election on the 7th.

NELSON: That certainly is going to be a deterrent. I mean, the Taliban has made it very clear. They were, of course, responsible for this attack today and claimed responsibility for it. They've made it clear they are going to disrupt this election process and that today was only the start. The problem that, of course, is also out there is how much are the election workers, how much are they going to be able to prevent fraud from happening if they can't actually go out and see what's going on. This task has fallen to the Western observers, and the Western commissions. And again, because of today's attack, everyone is going to have to review their security procedures to see whether or not they can actually be outside and be part of this election process.

SIEGEL: Soraya, is it common in attacks of this kind for the attackers to have police uniforms and to at least be convincing for some period of time as they're carrying out the attack?

NELSON: Well, it certainly has happened before and it always raises the question: How do they get these things? Apparently to some degree, not only are weapons available in bazaars or, you know, sort of the under the table, but these uniforms are also sold for people to make a profit. And so - and it's very disconcerting because you have an Afghan approaching, he's carrying weapons, but he's wearing a uniform and so your initial reaction is not that this is someone who's going to cause harm.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking to us from Kabul.

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