UN investigators believe that Afghan police mistakenly shot and killed four UN employees during a Taliban attack in October last year, UN officials said on Monday.
Susana Malcorra, a top UN peacekeeping official, made the remark in a briefing about a UN board of inquiry into an Oct. 28 Taliban attack on a guesthouse in Kabul that resulted in the deaths of five UN employees.
She described confusing circumstances in which Taliban attackers and Afghan security forces who responded were dressed in identical police uniforms. It was a “very, very chaotic situation in the middle of the night,” she said.
Investigators believe three UN employees were shot and killed by the Afghan police while trying to escape from the guesthouse, Malcorra said.
“The sense is that it was friendly fire,” she said.
Malcorra said that UN security officer Louis Maxwell, an American, might also have been killed by Afghan police who appeared to have mistaken him for an insurgent. She rejected suggestions that Maxwell was killed at close range by Afghan troops in an execution-style shooting.
Maxwell was surrounded by Afghan troops but forensic analysis established that “he was killed by a long-distance shot ... beyond 5 meters,” Malcorra said.
Concern over the circumstances of Maxwell’s death were heightened when the German magazine Stern reported earlier this month that the security guard was shot execution-style by Afghan forces after heroically defending UN staff.
Stern, citing a joint probe by the UN and the FBI, broadcast an amateur video that it said backed its version of events.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky issued a statement saying: “Maxwell died protecting his UN colleagues, many of whom are alive today because of his heroic actions.”
The fifth UN victim died in a fire that began raging after the Taliban attackers set off grenades in the guesthouse, Malcorra said.
The UN has asked Afghan authorities to pursue the investigation, Malcorra said. Afghanistan’s UN mission declined to comment but said Ambassador Zahir Tanin had passed on the report to Kabul.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the inquiry report, which will not be made public, highlighted shortcomings in UN security measures and coordination between the UN, Afghan authorities and NATO partners.
UN officials have said privately that it also reflected the Afghan security forces’ lack of training and discipline.
The Afghan government originally said the Taliban killed all five UN staffers. Shortly after the attack, Ban criticized the police for taking so long to arrive at the site, where Maxwell was struggling to fend off the attackers.
Ban said in his statement that he has asked UN security chief Gregory Starr to review the security findings in the report and to lead a team to Kabul next week “to discuss next steps and follow up with the Afghan authorities.”
Meanwhile, the Afghan Interior Ministry said yesterday a rocket attack killed three civilians inside a home in the northern Kunduz province and wounded three others. The statement blamed insurgents for the Monday night attack.
In Kabul, the deputy police chief said a rocket hit the ground near the Ministry of Urban Development early yesterday, but there were no casualties.
In other news, two Chinese nationals kidnapped three months ago by the Taliban have been freed and are in good health, Beijing said yesterday.
The pair were kidnapped on Jan. 16 as they were working on a road project in Faryab Province. The Taliban had claimed responsibility for their abduction.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry statement gave no details on the circumstances or timing of their release. The Chinese were seized along with their two Afghan drivers and two guards, who were freed in late January after negotiations with tribal elders.
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