By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 18, 2009 - Despite the wave of violence this week in Afghanistan's capital, military officials there believe Afghans will turn out to vote in their national election Aug. 20, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force said today. Suicide bombings in Kabul today and Aug. 15 killed three ISAF troops, several Afghan soldiers, United Nations employees and more than 50 innocent civilians, Canadian Defense Force Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay said in a video news conference from Afghanistan. Insurgents have stepped up their attacks from about 30 to more than 40 per day in the past four days, Tremblay told Pentagon reporters. The highest number of attacks for one day during that period is 48, he said. Although that seems like a large number, the general explained, Afghanistan's election commission expects to open an estimated 6,500 polling stations throughout the country, meaning insurgents would have to launch at least 65 attacks to affect even 1 percent of the polling stations.
"Clearly, [insurgents] do not have the capacity to intimidate and prevent 15 million Afghans from voting," the general said. "This incident, once again, proves that the insurgents have no respect for the Afghan population as they continue to use indiscriminate and [disproportionate] violence to advance their ideology and extremist views against the citizens of Afghanistan."
More than 90,000 Afghan soldiers and 47,000 police are expected to be on hand conducting security operations on Aug. 20. The Afghan defense ministry's plan calls for police to provide direct security at the polls, with the army positioned in outlying areas as a contingent force. ISAF troops will be standing by as a last resort with ground and aerial capabilities.
Afghan security forces have been training and preparing for election day security for months, participating in national and regional exercises, Tremblay said. Also, ISAF and Afghan troops have stepped up operations in Taliban strongholds in the eastern and southern parts of the country.
"The objectives of these operations and preparations were to minimize and mitigate the risk to the lowest levels possible," he said. "Despite the best plans in place, there will always be some residual risk. This is especially the case in a complex environment like Afghanistan."
Attacks are almost a certainty on Aug. 20, but in spite of the best efforts by the Taliban and insurgents to drive Afghans from the polls, they're likely not going to make a difference, he said.
"Chances are, when you're looking purely at statistics, they're not going to be able to attack even 1 percent of the entire polling sites in this country," Tremblay said.
ISAF officials expect 85 to 95 percent of Afghanistan's 15 million registered voters to make it to the polls -- not entirely because of security efforts, Tremblay said, but because of their desire to take part in their country's political process.
"The Afghans have expressed very clearly their will and their determination to vote, and we will continue to support them so that they can freely exercise their right to choose their next president and their provincial representatives," the general said. "It is now for the Afghans themselves to decide their future."
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