• Usackas: the former Lithuanian foreign minister took up the EU post in February 2010 (Photo: eu2009.cz)

EU diplomats in Afghanistan rattled by shooting

14.04.11 @ 17:43

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The EU's ambassador to Afghanistan has said his staff are shocked after a bullet hit the window of his office earlier this week.

Recalling the incident on Tuesday (12 April), Vygaudas Usackas told EUobserver from Kabul on Thursday: "I was in my office talking on the phone during a meeting with staff when we heard some kind of strange noise. The moment I finished my conversation, I saw the hole in the window. My staff were shocked. It didn't go through because of the bullet-proof glass, but we quickly got everyone out of this part of the building."

He added: "I'm not scared. But I'm glad we had the bullet-proof glass or we might not be talking right now."

He noted that the incident is the first of its kind in the EU compound, operated by around 140 staff and home to some 40 EU diplomats and officials.

Usackas said the shooting comes just a few days after a massacre at a UN compound in Mazar el-Sharif, which already alarmed his personnel. A mob last Friday broke into the UN camp and killed seven people after a US cleric in Florida publicly burned the Koran.

"My first concern is my staff. Some of them took it [the EU shooting incident] very emotionally, very sensitively. I think they're doing pretty well, but after Mazar el-Sharif the atmosphere is not good. I have postponed a trip to the Tajikistan border to take care of the investigation and just to try to calm things down."

Usackas noted that the Kabul posting has already seen his life and the lives of colleagues put at risk once before.

The former Lithuanian foreign minister was almost hit by a Taliban rocket while attending a tribal gathering or 'jirga' in Kabul last May. "One rocket landed maybe 70 metres from where I was sitting. Here in Afghanistan you have to go to some events where you know that you might be risk," he said.

A preliminary forensic study of the bullet-hole on Tuesday indicates that it was not a sniper rifle but the bullet has not been found.

The prevailing theory is that fighting between security forces of two rival warlords 400 metres away from the EU compound saw a bullet go astray and hit the window by chance.

The EU generally has a more neutral reputation than Nato, the US or the UN in Afghanistan.

But it is expanding its role from police-training and development aid to political tasks, such as oversight of recent parliamentary elections, with investigators not ruling out a deliberate attack.

The EU compound in Kabul is considered one of the safest places in the city, but EU staff are told to come without their families.