An angry mob that killed seven foreign UN staff in north Afghanistan ripped out the door of a bunker where several had taken shelter, and slit the throat of one man who survived a bullet, the top UN envoy in the country said on Saturday.
Staffan de Mistura promised that the United Nations would stay in Afghanistan after the vicious assault, the deadliest it has faced in Afghanistan, but would have to reconsider security, particularly guarantees from Afghan forces.
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Afghan police were the first line of protection on Friday when a crowd of up to 3,000 demonstrators enraged by the burning of a Koran by a militant fundamentalist Christian in the United States overran the compound, killing seven staff.
De Mistura said the violence, in a normally peaceful city, had caught ill-prepared Afghan police by surprise, and the gurkhas who are the next layer of security for the United Nations could not open fire because they are forbidden to shoot into crowds that contain civilians.
"Its clear if the Afghan police had a cordon of separation between the demonstration and the building, the building would not have been attacked," he said.
"The reality is that our gurkhas are never going to shoot at civilians, so the demonstration became an entry point, making it gradually impossible for our own gurkhas, our own security to intervene."
In other words, the UN Mission relied on the presence of local police and their own (third country national) armed guards to deter mobs. They evidently did not put up the kinds of physical barriers - high perimeter walls and gates, entry control facilities, protected guard booths and police fighting position, etc., - that would have delayed and channeled the mob, and made it more feasible for the armed presence to prevent anyone from entering.
Without that element of physical delay, guards and police can't be fully effective. As de Mistura correctly noted, the Gurkhas would not simply fire into a crowd of 3,000 persons. And it wouldn't have been effective even if they had. However, they would have fired at specific persons climbing over a wall or breaching an entry control point.
Inside the UN compound, the headquarters building likewise lacked physical security relevant to a mob attack.
The four [internationally engaged employees] who were in the compound fled into the bunker when they heard the walls had been breached, but it had been built to withstand shrapnel from a bomb blast, not a sustained assault.
"The bunker is made for sustaining attacks by bombs, suicide bombers, not by a crowd of people with hammers or whatever they could find, so they were able to enter the door," de Mistura said.
That is an astute remark by de Mistura. While most people will assume that any wall, door, or window that was built to resist bomb blast will also resist small arms fire and forced entry, that is not at all the case. In order to protect people against a prolonged mob attack that uses small arms and improvised hand tools ("hammers or whatever they could find") you need products that were specifically designed for that purpose, like the ones that U.S. embassies use.
FYI, for a detailed description of how those embassy products are tested, and I do mean detailed, see this article in an old issue of a construction trade journal.
The UN says it's not going to leave Afghanistan because of this attack, but, it also sounds like it's having second thoughts about staying.
The United Nations will review all its security procedures but also expects a stronger commitment from the Afghan government he said, warning that protecting foreigners working in the country was vital to guaranteeing international support.
"Afghanistan is not any more the center of the world, there is Tunisia, there is Libya, there is Egypt, there are other places which require and will require the attention of the international community, and taxpayers' money and of everyone else, energy," de Mistura said.
In addition to attention, money, and energy, the international community might want to take a lesson from our Fortress Embassies, as well.