JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, Margaret Warner continues her reports from Afghanistan. Today, she looks at the United Nations as a target for killers.
MARGARET WARNER: On a dusty Kabul Tuesday afternoon amid the roar of engines at the Kabul Airport, the remains of two United Nations election volunteers were bid farewell.
The U.N. special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, spoke of Lydia Wonwene of Liberia and Josie Esto of the Philippines, who came to this war-torn country to help its fledgling democracy, only to be slaughtered in a suicide assault on their quarters.
KAI EIDE: Josie and Lydia came here as volunteers. They came here to put their footprint on the path to peace that must lead to peace of this country. That is a path that is narrow. And it leads uphill. It's hard to walk.
MARGARET WARNER: That path was made narrower today, when Eide announced that more than half of his international staff of 1,100 would be moved abroad, at least temporarily. Nearly 4,000 Afghans will continue the U.N.'s work here.
KAI EIDE: We are not talking about pulling out, and we are not talking about evacuation. We are simply doing what we have to do, following the tragic event of last week, to look after our workers in a difficult moment, while ensuring that our operations in Afghanistan can continue.
MARGARET WARNER: Today's announcement was triggered by the killing of five United Nations staffers who had come here to help shepherd the country's first Afghan-run presidential election. That mission made them the target of threats from the Taliban, who opposed the entire election process.
That threat hit home here before sunrise last Wednesday. This is the Bakhtar guesthouse, one of more than 90 such modest lodgings around Kabul where U.N. workers live. A squad of gunmen and suicide bombers arrived, fought the guesthouse guards, and then went over the wall.
WAIS SHERZAI, manager, Bakhtar Guesthouse: And when I turned, just I heard from the police. They told me there's the shoot by two guards. After that, they are jumped from the upstairs, inside the guesthouse, because they had broken the lock. And after that, they started the shooting.
MARGARET WARNER: Guesthouse manager Wais Sherzai says he was jolted awake that morning by heavy gunfire outside the compound walls. He raced to bolt the door of the house and began evacuating his guests out the back.
WAIS SHERZAI: I shout to everyone, please go with me. We are escaping. On that time, I heard the bomb blasts, the grenade sounds. The third time, I come back. I want to go back to the top floor. I shout for other guests. Just very big bomb blasts, very. And at that time, I escape. Just the smoking, the fire start.
MARGARET WARNER: One guest, U.N. security officer Laurance Mefful of Ghana, was trying to get his colleagues Lydia and Josie out. But, with the exit stairwell ablaze, they decided to jump from the balcony into the courtyard and what they thought was a group of Afghan policemen.
So, you mean the guests thought, oh, the police are here, and they jump out...
WAIS SHERZAI: They had a mistake. The police are the attacker. On that time, they had a mistake. He was a terrorist in uniform. My guests had a mistake. And they want to jump, and they shoot them.
MARGARET WARNER: But, amid the terror, there is a story of uncommon valor. Another guest, U.N. security officer Lewis Maxwell, an American, raced to the roof and rained steady fire down on the attackers while other guests fled.
KAI EIDE: I think they saved the lives of perhaps as much as 20 people. And they behaved heroically to the very end. And we're extremely grateful to them. They lost their lives, but they saved many others.
MARGARET WARNER: Afterwards, many thought the U.N. would pull up stakes here. That's what it did in Iraq when shortly after establishing a mission there in 2003, a truck bomb decimated its Baghdad headquarters and killed the mission chief.
But the U.N. has been in Afghanistan for half-a-century, through kings and coups, invasions and civil war, the Taliban and the Americans.
Despite assurances from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who made a surprise visit here Monday, the U.N. staff was badly shaken.
MARGIE COOK, chief electoral adviser, United Nations: This was an attack on my staff, on the election staff, but in their homes, while they were asleep in bed, in a place where you feel that you could be safe.
MARGARET WARNER: Margie Cook is the U.N.'s chief electoral adviser here, with 400 people working for her, 135 of them non-Afghan.
At first, all U.N. services countrywide were suspended and the staff put into lockdown, restricted to only essential movement around town. Some senior staff got extra protection.
Do you feel personally under threat?
MARGIE COOK: In the last few days, yes, because I have been informed that that's the case. The U.N. has taken steps to protect myself, the house where I live and the people that I share a house with.
I have two heavily armed personal protection people who look after me day and night. And we have Gurkhas who look after our residence.
MARGARET WARNER: But, by week's end, Eide was making the relocation announcement, after receiving intelligence reports that the Taliban was planning more strikes against the U.N., in hopes of driving it and other internationals from the country.
Eide says there's a new paradigm developing for the U.N., being seen as a target, and not just in Afghanistan.
KAI EIDE: We must face up to the fact that the security situation for U.N. personnel here, in Pakistan and elsewhere is different from what it was a year ago. That's a fact, regrettably, because the U.N. is not a combatant and must not be seen as a combatant.
MARGARET WARNER: For an international agency that brings food, vaccine and know-how to afflicted people around the world, this new situation poses a dilemma: Can they fulfill that mission living behind razor wire and blast walls?
It's a mission that depends on the relationships they form with local people. That's how these U.N. staffers really made their mark.
WAIS SHERZAI: I never forget them, because any time, when I go each room, each of them room, I saw him in front of my eye because I told you I loved him, really. Everyone was a good person, Lydia, Josie, Laurence, Max, each of them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You can watch all of Margaret Warner's Afghanistan stories on our World View page. That's at NewsHour.PBS.org.