Security Arrangements for Afghan Elections Will Be Strong
16 September 2005
General says coalition, Afghan forces ready for all contingencies
By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer
Washington -- Afghanistan’s September 18 parliamentary and provincial elections are more complex in nature, but expected to be more secure for voters than the 2004 presidential elections, says a U.S. military officer familiar with the preparations for both political events.
Speaking to reporters based at the Pentagon via videoconference from his command headquarters in Afghanistan on September 16, Army Brigadier General James Champion said he anticipates the possibility that anti-democratic forces may try to disrupt the election process but expects a successful outcome nevertheless because Afghan and coalition forces are ready for all contingencies.
Champion, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force-76, attributes the complexity of this election to the fact that there is a slate of 5,800 candidates now versus only eight in the October 2004 presidential election. The number of registered voters also has climbed, from around 10 million in 2004 to 12.5 million. Some 45 percent of the newest voters are women, he said, with a quarter of the National Assembly seats set aside for female candidates.
Champion said he expects the upcoming elections to be more secure because Afghan forces have taken steps to prevent any kind of coordinated attacks as have been commonplace in Iraq. The Afghan National Army and police are responsible for providing election security.
The Afghan army has 26,000 trained soldiers on duty; another 4,000 are still in training. These soldiers are providing the outer ring of election security.
The Afghan police are providing security at more than 6,000 polling locations around the country. Currently 49,000 police are available, an increase of 27,000 since the presidential elections.
Coalition forces are on hand for any major emergencies: 12,000 European forces assigned to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and 20,000 U.S. military personnel. Champion said his forces are there in a support role to the Afghan government, army and police.
Although there has been an escalation of pre-election violence in recent months, Champion said, it is lower than experienced “last year in the run-up to the presidential election.”
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said on September 15 that Taliban and al-Qaida forces have carried out violence in recent weeks in an effort to intimidate Afghans from registering to vote and to sabotage the election. (See related article.)
Election day has been declared a holiday to facilitate voter turnout. Burns told Afghan television in a July 9 interview that “we hope very much that Afghans will exercise their democratic rights to vote in the elections that are coming up.” The election will be witnessed by between 6,000 and 7,000 observers.
Centers have been established in 32 of 34 Afghan provinces to count ballots. Provisional results are expected by October 10, followed by final results on October 22.
Champion said the Afghan people will awake September 19 “to a brighter future after successfully voting in their new leaders.” He described it as a turning point for Afghans “who will have the opportunity to experience democracy at work for a second time.”
A transcript of Champion’s briefing is available at the Defense Department Web site.
Afghanistan was also a topic of discussion for NATO defense ministers meeting in Germany September 13-14. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters in Berlin at the conclusion of the informal defense ministerial that the goal is for the Afghan army -- in partnership with NATO -- to be in control of the security for three-quarters of the country by the spring of 2006. The ultimate goal is to have Afghans in complete control of their nation’s security, he said.
A transcript of Rumsfeld’s remarks is also available at the Defense Department Web site
For more information about U.S. policy and Afghanistan see Rebuilding Afghanistan.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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