Role of Afghan forces eyed in 4 UN staff deaths

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A United Nations investigation has found that four U.N. staff members killed during a suicide attack on a Kabul guest house last October may have died because of friendly fire from Afghan security forces, U.N. officials said Monday.

A final report by a four-member outside panel suggested that four of the five U.N. staffers killed in the attack had been shot to death because they were mistaken for Taliban insurgents during the Oct. 28 incident.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office said Monday it had received the report, which it declined to make public. Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said Monday the report described a "confused situation at the Bakhtar guest house with the attackers and responding security personnel both dressed in Afghan police uniforms and a fire raging through the compound."

Nesirky said one of the dead U.N. staffers, Louis Maxwell of Miami, "may have been killed by Afghan security forces who may have mistaken him for an insurgent. ... The report was not able to determine who fired the shots that killed the three other United Nations staff members, though it leaves open the possibility that they may also have been killed by friendly fire."

After the attack, the U.N. sent about 600 of its 1,100 foreign staffers out of the country or into more secure quarters.

U.N. peacekeeping field support chief Susana Malcorra said the attack targeted the U.N. for its role in the Nov. 7 presidential runoff election. The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, viewed the balloting as a Western plot.

"We believe there is a political connotation to the attack," Malcorra said Monday. "The sense is that it was friendly fire."

She said a fifth U.N. official burned to death when three suicide attackers stormed a Kabul guest house and set fire to the building. Three Afghan security officers and the three assailants also died.

Malcorra said the attackers were wearing the same Afghan police uniforms as the security staff at the guest house where 34 U.N. staff lived. She also said "there is a strong sense" that Maxwell, who was on the roof, was mistaken for an insurgent and killed by Afghan security forces.

Nesirky said Ban was calling on the Afghan government to conduct a thorough investigation into the killings and sending U.N. security chief Gregory Starr with a team to Kabul next week to talk with Afghan authorities about beefing up safeguards for U.N. personnel.

Maxwell and another security officer who died, Laurance Mefful of Ghana "were able to fire back" and heroically held off the attackers long enough for some of their U.N. colleagues to escape through a back door, Malcorra said. The two security officers were armed only with pistols, while the insurgents had AK-47s, suicide vests and grenades, according to Ban and other U.N. officials.

There remain unanswered questions, Malcorra said, based on amateur video of the attack. Germany's Stern magazine reported last week that it obtained the video, which indicated Maxwell was killed after he escaped from the guest house and was struck by gunfire while standing among Afghan police.

"We need to fully connect how is it that he was surrounded by people and he was eventually shot by somebody from farther away," she said.

Last week, Nesirky had said the panel's investigation, led by Australian police official Andrew Hughes, was looking at "the disturbing possibility" that one staffer was killed because of friendly fire.

Nesirky said the inquiry's findings would be shared with the Afghan government. Ban has demanded to know why it took an hour for Afghan police and NATO troops to respond to repeated calls for help.

Afghan authorities denied they were slow to respond, while NATO said the Afghans did not ask its international forces for support.