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UN chief pleads for extra Afghan security

UN crisis meeting following attack on staff in Kabul

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon late Thursday warned that the world body was vulnerable to more attacks in the week leading up to the Afghan elections and pleaded for more help to protect his staff.

"We cannot do it alone," the secretary general told a crisis meeting of the U.N. Security Council following Wednesday's suicide attack by Taliban fighters on a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul that killed five U.N. staffers and wounded nine.

"We need the support of the member states," he told diplomats from the world's most powerful countries.

Ban said he had spoken with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and "urged him again that he should take immediate action to strengthen security measures for the premises."

A little over a week before Afghanistan's Nov. 7 run-off presidential election, Ban said U.N. staff faced a "dramatically escalated" threat and were seen as a "soft target."

"Increasingly, the U.N. is being targeted, in this case precisely because of our support for the Afghan elections," Ban said.

The Security Council issued a statement promising "strong support for the secretary general" and saying it "commends the determination of the United Nations not to be deterred by the tragic incident and to carry on its mission in Afghanistan."

Ban gave few details of what could be done to secure the unarmed U.N. staff, who are playing a crucial role in the holding of Afghanistan's run-off election.

Increasingly, the U.N. is being targeted, in this case precisely because of our support for the Afghan elections

U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon

Attack on UN guesthouse

Wednesday's attack on the Bekhtar guesthouse, carried out by three Taliban fighters who blew themselves up after a two-hour gun battle, has raised the stakes for the international community ahead of the crucial poll.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the vote, which was called in response to massive fraud in the first round.

"We'll intensify our attacks in the coming days. We'll disrupt the elections," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"We have new plans and tactics for attacks to disrupt the elections," he added.

Assaults and intimidation by the Taliban, who were toppled by U.S.-led forces in 2001, were a major deterrent to voters in the first round of the election on Aug. 20, when turnout in some provinces was as low as five percent.

Ban said that as a precaution, "we are first of all trying to consolidate our staff who are scattered around in Kabul."

Extra measures would be most needed "outside Kabul where U.N. security is clearly insufficient," he added.

The U.N. chief said more forces were needed, possibly including private security firms, and he praised the "heroism" of Afghan guards who on Wednesday attempted to hold off the Taliban assailants at a U.N. residence in Kabul.

Ban also said he was "very much encouraged" by the Security Council's reaction to his plea.

We have new plans and tactics for attacks to disrupt the elections

Yousuf Ahmadi, Taliban