By David Brunnstrom
Two Afghan security men have been killed and one was wounded when attackers fired at a vehicle escorting a U.N. convoy in the east of the country, the local head of the U.N. agency says.
Afghan soldiers later killed one of the attackers and arrested another, the secretary of the local military commander said. No U.N. employees were hurt.
Filippo Grandi, head of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Afghanistan, told Reuters the attack happened at about 10 a.m. (5:30 a.m. British time) in Khogiani district about 30 km (20 miles) southwest of Jalalabad as four UNHCR vehicles headed for a routine monitoring mission, guarded by one escort vehicle.
People in the convoy spotted a body on the road and decided the situation was unsafe and they should turn round. “As they were turning around, the escort vehicle came under attack by armed men in civilian clothes,” he said.
Grandi said one escorting soldier was killed at the scene and another died on the way to hospital, while the driver was wounded. He had said earlier that the driver had been killed.
“No UNHCR personnel were killed or wounded,” he said.
Agha Jan, the secretary of Jalalabad’s military commander, said earlier that one security man had been killed as well as one of the attackers. He said one of the attackers, who he described as “thieves”, was captured.
The escorting soldiers were from Jalalabad’s 14th Brigade, deputy brigade commander Colonel Sayed Rahman told Reuters. He said the attackers were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Grandi said he could not speculate about the identity of the attackers, but said the United Nations had decided to suspend activity in the area while the security risk remained.
“This is of course serious,” he said. “This is an area where we do monitoring of returnees and we can’t work until we know there is security for our staff.”
He said at least one foreign UNHCR employee, a Kenyan, was in the convoy at the time of the attack. He said all the U.N. staff had returned safely to Jalalabad.
The UNHCR has a major mission in Afghanistan helping with the return of refugees after the fall of the fundamentalist Taliban regime in late 2001. More than two million Afghan refugees returned to their homes last year, but millions more remain outside the country.
Jalalabad was once a stronghold of the Taliban, remnants of which are being pursued by a U.S.-led military coalition also hunting fighters of the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden. Washington believes bin Laden was the mastermind behind the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.