By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 11, 2009 - Nine days before the Afghan national elections, coalition forces are prepared to back up Afghan security forces as necessary to ensure 17 million registered voters have safe access to the polls, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. "Huge expectations and huge consequences are associated with the upcoming election" on Aug. 20, Morrell told reporters. Even President Barack Obama has called the elections "probably the most important event to take place in Afghanistan this year," he noted.
The election, the first the Afghans have organized, run and administered since the 1970s, represents "a significant turning point" for the Afghan people, he said. The United States is taking no position on the 37 candidates on the ballot, but recognizes the importance of a smooth election process.
"It is our wish to see that these elections are as credible, secure and inclusive as possible, that they result in a legitimate outcome, [and] that the Afghan people and the world recognize [them] as the will of the Afghan people," Morrell said.
Toward that end, the coalition is working with Afghan security forces to create a secure election environment.
"Keep in mind, we are dealing with an enemy here that is doing everything in its power to discourage Afghans from executing their constitutional right to head to the polls – through intimidation, through violence," Morrell said. "We are trying to make sure that is minimized, if not eliminated."
The volatile Regional Command South area poses a particular challenge. But even in Helmand province, more polling places than previously thought are expected to be safe enough to open. Afghanistan's independent election commission had expressed concern before the stepped-up coalition presence that too few polling places would be able to open.
"As operations have progressed, the number not safe enough to open [is] shrinking," Morrell said today. "We obviously want to get those numbers as small as possible so that we can have an opportunity for as much access to polling places as possible."