Thursday, November 5, 2009

Echoes of Iraq: UN Evacuates International Staff

The United Nations announced that it was evacuating hundreds of its non-essential international personnel from Afghanistan on Thursday, citing a deteriorating security situation as the impetus for this move. 600 of the nations 1100 staff are to be moved. This constitutes a serious development for progress by the international community to stabilize the country, as well as a direct blow to western military efforts. The decision comes on the heels of a series of fast-moving events over the last fortnight. A failed presidential election runoff, with the opposition candidate withdrawing from the ballot and a suicide attack on a UN guesthouse which killed five volunteer staff there have marred much of the impression of progress, combined with a sharp increase in casualties, the situation is ‘worsening’.

In August 2003, a massive bomb blast at the UN Headquarters in Iraq killed 22 workers in that country. As a result, the UN made arrangements to involuntarily remove its international personnel from the nation. The situation in Afghanistan has an eerie parallel. The difference is that Iraq was less than a year from its inception, Afghanistan has had almost a decade of international intervention in every aspect of its internal affairs. Security would appear to be deteriorating, but whether this is indeed the case or whether the insurgency is fighting with its last failing strength remains to be seen.

The penalties for failure are dire, if the situation deteriorates further and a mass exodus of NGOs, aid groups and contractors occurs, it will seriously damage the credibility of any future NATO effort, as well as the ability of the United Nations to function in regions of unrest. The penalty for an organization like NATO could potentially be the fragmentation of its own international composition, as countries withdraw from their obligations or outright quit the alliance structure in disenfranchisement. Failure in Afghanistan could quite potentially mean the failure of those things which were so hard won throughout the tense years of the Cold War. So the world simply cannot fail.

Transitioning towards an exit strategy is of course important, and may result in a coherent ‘end date’ for combat operations and transition into more peaceful practices of shoring up security and creating infrastructure. Moving too quickly toward the door just because of a few bad hands will give the whole game away and the stakes are far too high for international institutions, individual nations and the people of Afghanistan itself.


Reuters – U.N. pulls out foreign staff from Afghanistan
Reuters - Factbox- The worsening security picture in Afghanistan Our mission in Afghanistan can still succeed

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