UN Plans to Downsize Afghan Mission

The United Nations plans to downsize its mission in Afghanistan by at least a fifth in the coming months, while its budget for next year is expected to decrease by 18 per cent, according to a UN report and officials.

According to a UN report on Afghanistan, made available to dpa, the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is preparing to close a number of its offices and review its future role in the country.

While the UN report said eight of the 23 UNAMA offices in the provinces would close by the end of 2012, a UN official in Afghanistan said that number could rise to nine.

Offices in Ghor and Zabul provinces have already been closed, while those in Nimruz, Badghis, Daikundi, Takhar, Sar-i-pul and also the volatile southern province of Uruzgan are also expected to be shuttered, according to the report.

"This decision was preceded by consultations with the UN agencies, funds and programmes on the future United Nations presence in Afghanistan," Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in the report.

"The office closures will lead to considerable savings, but further savings will need to be identified to meet projected reductions."

He said there would also be "a reduction in personnel" that his special representative in Kabul, Jan Kubis, was planning to conduct.

A Western diplomat, who requested anonymity, said UNAMA will decrease its personnel by about a fifth. More than 500 national and international staff will lose their jobs, UN sources confirmed. Currently there are more than 2,500 staff in the mission.

Some of the units in the Kabul headquarters will be merged, one official said; for example, the child protection unit with the human rights unit.

Proposed funding for 2013 has also been decreased by 45 million dollars. Last year, the UNAMA budget was 241 million dollars, while next year, that figure will be about 196 million dollars, a UN official said.

UNAMA's budget is currently the largest of all special political missions in the UN.

A UN official said UNAMA has been expected to "do more with less as a response to the prevailing economic climate."

"Informal discussions are emerging on the future role of the UN in Afghanistan," Ban said in the report. "While we will support Afghanistan to the maximum of our ability, it will be difficult to meet all anticipated needs."

The UN drawdown is also in keeping with a request made by the Afghan government last year. Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul had asked for a review of the UNAMA mandate and suggested the office reduce its footprint while handing over responsibilities to the Kabul administration.

In a press conference in May, Kubis said the "transition dictates ... that we perhaps don't need such a widespread presence around the country" and that "an adjustment" was ongoing.

NATO has already announced its combat missions will stop by the end of 2014. France has said it will withdraw its soldiers by the end of 2012, while a third of US soldiers will leave by September.

Afghans remain concerned about security, and development aid funds are decreasing as smaller NGOs close their operations because of the security situation and the financial crisis.

Donor countries and international organizations are to meet in Tokyo in July to discuss continued civilian aid to Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai last week said his country needs 4 billion dollars a year for development and reconstruction efforts. This is separate from military aid of 4.1 billion dollars, more than half of which will be paid by the US.

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