|FROM ||Ruben Safir Secretary NYLXS
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] Afghanastan is ***VOTING TODAY****
October 9, 2004
Afghanistan Imposes Tight Security for Its First Presidential Voting
By CARLOTTA GALL
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Oct. 8 - The military and police closed down
Afghanistan's main roads and cities on Friday in a huge security
operation in anticipation of bomb attacks or other violence during the
country's first presidential election on Saturday.
The main Kabul-Kandahar highway was deserted after the police banned
all commercial traffic from the major cities and set up checkpoints on
the main roads and entrance points to the towns. During the day,
convoys of armed guards ferried the last ballot boxes and election
materials to polling stations.
From 6 p.m. Friday through the end of the elections, all commercial
and civilian traffic was barred from the city of Kandahar or from
crossing district boundaries, except for carrying the sick, the
governor announced. The border crossing with Pakistan will be closed to
all traffic except for voters with registration cards, he said.
The American-led forces in Afghanistan and the Kabul government were
taking no chances in the light of threats from the Taliban and the
militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to disrupt the elections, which
they criticize as an American-imposed, un-Islamic process.
About 100,000 security personnel have been deployed around the country,
with 40,000 Afghan police officers guarding the polling stations and
towns, 20,000 newly trained Afghan National Army troops providing an
outer ring of security, and with about 18,000 coalition troops, led by
an American force, trying to keep an eye on all of it.
British Harrier attack jets have been stationed at the American air
base at Kandahar and have been flying low over the roads and
surrounding desert as a deterrent. "There's one thing they are scared
of, the Taliban, and that's air power," Col. Dick Pedersen, the
American officer in charge of forces in southern Afghanistan, said with
The Taliban and its insurgent allies have been threatening to disrupt
the elections for months, since voter registration began in earnest in
May. They threatened to kill anyone who registered, and laid bombs or
ambushed election workers on occasions. Twelve election workers were
killed and 33 injured during registration, mostly in bomb and mine
blasts, but the campaign was not enough to deter voters from
registering. Security forces were also bracing for factional violence
elsewhere in the country, but the threat from Taliban in the south and
southeast remains the most serious security concern.
While the official estimate of 10.5 million registered voters in the
country is certainly inflated, election organizers are expecting from
five million to seven million to turn out on Saturday. Afghan officials
in the southeastern province of Zabul, which has a large insurgency and
where registration was already low, said threats from the Taliban might
deter about 20 percent of registered voters, but not the vast majority.
Abdul Hai Akbari, a tribal elder in Qalat, the provincial capital,
said: "Eighty percent of the people are scared. They are scared they
will be attacked in their homes for voting, or at the polling station."
He said the tribes had collected money to provide transport to get
their people to get to the polling stations. The tribes were also
providing men for local security.
Taliban spokesmen have warned that they are planning large-scale
attacks for the day of elections. One intelligence report has warned of
something "spectacular" occurring in Kabul. Afghan intelligence reports
suggest that 800 to 1,000 Taliban fighters have entered southern
Afghanistan, filtering through the long, porous border and joining up
with armed units around the southern provinces, according to the
governor of Kandahar, Yusuf Pashtun. The police caught one group
crossing the border and battled with them for two hours last week,
finally capturing 13 of them, he said. Military officials estimate
there are some 2,000 insurgents already active in the country.
Mr. Pashtun said threats of armed attacks and rockets remained in the
remoter areas, and of car bombs and explosions in the cities.
Yet he said the authorities had gotten through the most dangerous days,
which were in his analysis the prelude to the elections, if the
insurgents' aim had been to deter voters.
The police were tipped off by Pakistani authorities that two cars and a
fuel tanker filled with explosives were on their way from Pakistan, the
governor said. They towed away a suspect car from the city on Thursday
and a fuel tanker on Friday, and coalition sniffer dogs seemed to
confirm that both had been laden with explosives, the governor said.
"It could have been catastrophic with 60,000 liters of fuel going up,"
Mr. Pashtun said. The police have also found and defused five roadside
bombs in the city in the last week, the governor said.
Yet in view of the security clampdown in the main cities, armed attacks
on remote districts or polling stations were the more likely event,
local police and government officials said. In those areas the threats
from the Taliban and the fear of violence among the population would
probably reduce the turnout.
The chief of Khakrez, a district in the north of Kandahar Province,
said 80 Taliban fighters had recently arrived in his district and had
taken shelter in the mountains. "They will try to attack the polling
stations when voting starts and stop more people coming," he said
during a visit to Kandahar to alert the American forces about the group.
Afghan forces tried to surround the group on Friday and set off a
firefight. Three Taliban were killed and one wounded and captured, Mr.
Pashtun said. Reinforcements had been sent to pursue the rest of the
group, he said.
Kandahar is the hometown of President Hamid Karzai and is expected to
return a solid vote for the incumbent. Yet it was also the spiritual
base of the Taliban and remains a potential target for violence. The
Afghan government has fielded 5,000 police officers and soldiers there,
and they are backed by American troops.
Rockets were fired overnight at several cities, including the capital
Kabul, where a rocket landed close to the American military
Two children were wounded in another rocket attack in the eastern city
of Jalalabad, and six rockets hit Qalat in Zabul Province, although
they did no damage.
Copyright 2004 -- __________________________
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