U.N.: Afghan Security, Politics 'Irreversible' Without Intervention

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The U.N. chief on Monday cautioned against an "irreversible" deterioration in Afghanistan's security and politics unless nations rethink the way civilian aid and development are delivered.

In a report to the Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a new U.N.-led civilian effort to help build the nation.

"We are now at a critical juncture. The situation cannot continue as is if we are to succeed in Afghanistan," he said.

Ban cited a need for greater international coordination of civilian efforts under "a United Nations umbrella," but with the head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan maintaining overall responsibility.

Ban warned against the twin effects of deteriorating security and the fraud-plagued presidential elections in August, which shook Afghan President Hamid Karzai's credibility at home and abroad. Both have contributed to the government's inability to deliver basic services, which is fueling the expansion of the Taliban insurgency.

"If the negative trends are not corrected, there is a risk that the deteriorating overall situation will become irreversible," he said.

Ban said Kai Eide, the outgoing head of the U.N. mission, agrees that a senior civilian official also should be appointed on the military side.

Such an appointment within NATO's International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, would help coordinate the international military forces' growing role in political and development efforts, Ban said, especially the civilian-military provincial reconstruction teams.

Eide has said that the provincial reconstruction teams were the most "uncoordinated part of the civilian effort" — that some do their own things within individual provinces, but do not cross provincial boundaries and are not linked up to the Afghan government the way they should be.

Eide also said the difficulty in recruiting qualified new staff is seriously hampering the mission's ability to get things done.

"We need to strengthen our ability to coordinate, which means bringing in experts in specific areas that we don't have available today," Eide told reporters in Kabul on Sunday before leaving for the U.N., where he was to speak on Wednesday. "We have since May only been able to recruit two people for UNAMA." UNAMA is the name of the U.N.'s Afghan mission.

He put blame on the U.N.'s months-long recruitment processes. "It is tremendously frustrating to have a mandate that is very demanding — to have the financial resources" but be unable to get the manpower, he said. "We have to find a new way to recruit experienced experts to carry out the mandate."

The report cited an average of 1,244 armed clashes, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), stand-off attacks and other security-related incidents per month in the third quarter of 2009 — a 65 per cent increase over those in 2008.

"Insurgents increasingly used IEDs triggered by pressure plates, which respond to any passing vehicle. This has led to an increased risk for the United Nations in road travel and has caused an increase in civilian casualties," Ban's report said.

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan recorded 784 conflict-related civilian casualties between August and October 2009, up 12 per cent from the same period in 2008.

It cited government opponents as responsible for 78 percent of those, of which 54 per cent were victims of suicide bombers and IED attacks.