Yesterday Taliban militants wearing police uniforms carried out a complex suicide attack on a privately owned guest house in Kabul. A two hour fire fight resulted in the deaths of six UN staff members.
This video from STRATFOR has a quick summary and analysis of the attack. Its well worth watching if you have the bandwidth.
In the aftermath of this attack we are already seeing the inevitable calls for a complete review of security procedures for UN and NGO staff in Kabul. There will be a flurry of activity as outside security consultants are called in and security assessment teams from regional NGO offices descend on Kabul. Numerous reports will be written, fingers will be pointed, and a couple of people may even lose their jobs. Unfortunately many will come to the conclusion that this incident was an unanticipated and unforeseen escalation of the threat.
The problem is that it is just not true. The writing has been on the wall for the past two years. There have been numerous incidents of surveillance on UN and NGO buildings and staff. The Taliban and their allies have also repeatedly made it clear, both in word and deed, that they do not view the UN and most NGOs as neutral.
Selected Attacks, Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2009
1 Feb 2009 - Charbagh, Pakistan - Two MSF medical staff were killed when their clearly marked ambulances were fired upon in Charbagh.
2 Feb 2009 - Quetta, Pakistan - A driver with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was killed and John Solecki, the head of the local UNHCR office, was kidnapped.
9 Jun 2009 - Peshawar, Pakistan - 5 U.N. workers are among those killed in a complex suicide attack on the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar.
18 Aug 2009 - Kabul, Afghanistan - Two Afghans working for the U.N. were killed during a suicide vehicle bomb attack on a NATO convoy.
5 Oct 2009 - Islamabad, Pakistan - Five World Food Program (WFP) staff were killed and four others injured after a suicide bomber disguised as a Frontier Corps soldier was allowed to walk into the WFP office under the simple pretext of being allowed to use the toilet. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility with the following words: "We proudly claim the responsibility for the suicide attack at the U.N. office in Islamabad. We will send more bombers for such attacks. The U.N. and other foreign (aid groups) are not working for the interest of Muslims. We are watching their activities. They are infidels."
1. Dig out previous security risk assessments and physical security audits and make sure you've actually implemented the recommendations contained within. 2. If your existing security risk assessments and physical security audits are older than six and twelve months respectively update them now. 3. Ensure your Crisis Response Plan is current and practice it quarterly. 4. Implement a counter-surveillance plan. 5. Make sure you have a plan to respond if hostile surveillance is detected. Knowing your organization is being surveilled has little value if you are unable to respond to the fact. 6. Train as many staff as possible in personal counter-surveillance and surveillance detection. 7. Allow flexible work hours and 'work from home' policies. 8. Review access control procedures and ensure that guards are actually following them. 9. Limit visitors and insist on advance appointments. 10. Identify proper medical support. 11. Pull out all the stops on your active acceptance plan. You are unlikely to influence the Taliban and their supporters but you are going to need all the support and goodwill you can get from neighbours, beneficiaries, and local police.
As governmental and UN organizations continue to improve their security measures to deal with the militant threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan more and more of the risk burden will fall on softer targets, including NGOs. I assess their is a 70 to 80% chance that there will be VBIED or complex attack on an NGO facility in Afghanistan or Pakistan within the next twelve months. Are you ready?