Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Assailants riddled a United Nations vehicle with bullets at a busy traffic circle in the heart of Kabul on Tuesday, killing an Afghan staffer and raising new safety concerns about humanitarian operations in the country.
The daylight attack, which occurred close to the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy and the sprawling headquarters of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, also rattled residents of the capital.
For much of the nearly nine-year war here, Kabul has been relatively secure even as the security situation deteriorated elsewhere. But insurgents occasionally seek to demonstrate their ability to strike at will in almost any part of the city.
The Taliban fired rocket-propelled grenades this month at a gathering where President Hamid Karzai was speaking and last month set off a massive vehicle bomb on a busy roadway that killed several high-ranking Western military officers.
Safety has been a thorny issue for the United Nations, which has about 1,000 foreign staff members in the country. Earlier this month, the world body said it would relocate a limited number of support staff, an announcement that coincided with the release of a U.N. report chronicling surging violence around the country.
Last October, five U.N. staffers were killed in a coordinated insurgent assault on a guesthouse in the capital.
Authorities said Tuesday's shooting appeared to be an opportunistic attack on the U.N. vehicle, which carried the familiar blue-and-white logo. The incident was under investigation, Afghan and U.N. officials said.
"The United Nations condemns violence against any of its personnel under any circumstances," the U.N. mission in Kabul said in a statement.
Taliban fighters routinely target nongovernmental organizations providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, accusing them of bolstering the Western war effort. Such attacks often stymie aid projects, adding to Afghans' anger and disillusionment over the slow pace of reconstruction amid the burgeoning military campaign.
The United States has nearly 100,000 troops serving in Afghanistan. Military deaths this month are the highest of the war to date, with 100 Western troops killed so far in June, according to the independent website icasualties.org.
Relations between Afghans and Western troops are often fraught with tension, as illustrated by a near-riot that took place Tuesday in Kabul after rumors spread that American troops had desecrated a madrasa, or religious seminary, by bringing dogs along on an overnight raid in the southeastern part of the city. In Islam, dogs are considered unclean.
Afghan police said the raid was carried out solely by Afghan forces, although foreign troops guarded the perimeter. No dogs were involved, the Western military said, and Said Ghafar, the director of criminal investigation for the Kabul police, blamed "enemy propaganda" for the story's dissemination.
Seven Afghan police officers were injured in the rock-throwing melee that broke out hours later in the neighborhood. Hundreds of protesters shouted slogans denouncing the American "occupation."