KABUL - The United Nations announced Thursday it was evacuating more than half its international staff from Afghanistan after a deadly Taliban attack on a guesthouse for UN workers.
But the UN said it had no intention of abandoning Afghanistan, where 100,000 US-led foreign troops are battling a bloody insurgency eight years after the extremist Taliban regime was driven from power.
Around 600 expatriate staff, from a total of 1,100 foreigners, will be temporarily relocated, UN spokesman Dan McNorton told AFP in Kabul.
"The only people who will remain are regarded as essential staff. This is to ensure the safety of all our staff in Afghanistan," the spokesman said.
The evacuations will begin immediately, he said.
The UN has around 5,600 staff in Afghanistan, about 80 percent of whom are Afghans, and the relocations will affect around 12 percent of its total deployment.
The decision would be reviewed regularly and was expected to be effective for "a number of weeks while additional security is being put in place", McNorton said.
In a statement, the United Nations said it was "fully committed to helping all of Afghanistan's people, as it has been for more than half a century".
"Every effort will be made to minimise disruption to our activities while these additional security steps are being taken," it said.
The move comes eight days after Taliban suicide gunmen stormed a Kabul hostel in a dawn attack that killed five UN workers.
The head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, denied that the evacuation amounted to a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"We are not pulling out and will not pull out," he told reporters.
"The UN is putting in place immediate additional security measures for its international and Afghan staff.
"We will do what we can to avoid disruption of our work," he added.
Eide has come under criticism over the UN's role in Afghanistan's chaotic election. Hamid Karzai was re-elected president after his challenger withdrew from a run-off, following a first round that was marred by massive fraud.
In an interview earlier this week, Eide hinted that the UN's patience was wearing thin with the Karzai government.
"Some Afghans believe that Afghanistan is of such strategic importance that we will stay here whatever happens. It is simply not correct," he told the US public service broadcaster PBS.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held talks with security advisors in Kabul earlier this week following the attack at the Bekhtar guesthouse.
Speaking in the Afghan capital on Monday, Ban said acts of violence would not deter the UN from its work in the war-torn nation.
"There has been speculation that the United Nations will evacuate Afghanistan.... We will not be deterred, cannot be deterred and must not be deterred and the work of the United Nations will continue," said Ban.