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Afghanistan: U.S., Afghan Officials Say Security Efforts Ensured Smooth Elections

The Taliban has failed to carry out the massive terrorist attacks it had threatened during Afghanistan's presidential election. U.S. officials say tight security across the country averted two major attacks in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Oruzgun. That is where the U.S.-led coalition continues to battle remnants of the ousted Taliban regime. A handful of small-scale attacks across the country on election day failed to stop voting. Last night, suspected Taliban fighters fired rockets into Kabul -- the first such attack on the capital since the 9 October vote. But all in all, the chaos promised by Taliban fighters has not materialized. RFE/RL spoke with U.S. military officials about how the combined efforts of the coalition, the Afghan National Army, and the Afghan National Police kept the electoral process from being disrupted.

Kabul, 12 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Mahbud Amiri, commander of the Afghan Interior Ministry's Quick Reaction Force, said militants fired at least three Chinese-made BM-12 rockets into Kabul last night.

Amiri said a 20-year-old Afghan man was killed and an Afghan child was injured. He said the main suspects include members of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami mujahedin faction.

"The Hizb-e Islami, Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban people are trying to disrupt the situation following the elections -- and they cannot succeed. We have told people that we are trying to ensure that the entire election process in Afghanistan is a success. The balloting has been successful. And as soon as possible, we will arrest those and bring them to justice," Amiri said.

Yesterday's attack was the first in the Afghan capital since the 9 October presidential election. It was similar to several small-scale attacks around the country on election day involving antitank mines, rockets, or attempts by gunmen to break through security checkpoints.

Major Scott Nelson, a spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, credits increased pressure on militants for helping to keep the election process peaceful.

"We've been aggressive in capturing and disrupting anticoalition forces operations throughout the country. For example, down in Spin Boldak [shortly before election day], we had a major operation where we captured 10 [anticoalition militia fighters from the Taliban, Hekmatyar's fighters or Al-Qaeda.]. A number of them have been killed trying to cross in from Pakistan and through the border areas. That's been [part of] the same effort we've had across the country. Especially in the south and southeast where we've put a lot of pressure and enhancing security with the [U.S. Army's] 82nd Airborne coming in, with ISAF [International Security and Assistance Force] and the Spanish battalion, an Italian battalion, and the U.S. company now under ISAF," Nelson said.

U.S. Army Colonel Sam Johnson is the director of strategic communications for the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan. In remarks to RFE/RL, he praised both the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) for performing well on election day.

"In some ways, we were surprised that we didn't have any major attacks [on election day]. In many ways, though, we weren't surprised because of the overwhelming success of the ANA and the ANP in establishing good security across the country. And, I would tell you, largely because of the overwhelming support of the population who wanted this vote to happen. We were just absolutely amazed at how many local citizens came to us with issues -- [saying:] 'We know where some 107-millimeter rockets are. We know where some IEDs [improvised explosive devices] are. We know where some land mines are,'" Johnson said.
"It was a pretty large battle-damage assessment that we did. We pretty much incapacitated that group of Taliban."

One of the biggest planned attacks was in Kandahar. The day before the vote, militants tried to smuggle explosives into the city using a large gasoline tanker truck. Johnson credits the Afghan National Army with saving many lives by discovering the explosives before they could be detonated.

"It was very obvious, if you saw this 5,000-gallon tanker truck stopped at the east gate of Kandahar by the ANA, that had it gotten into the city and been detonated, we would have had a major incident on our hands. Fortunately, the security was good. The ANA were looking -- doing the right things and doing what they should be doing. And this truck was discovered. It was a tanker truck that had rockets with detonation cord -- it's a way of being able to set them off -- land mines and explosives in all the wheels. This was a major bomb that would have caused huge damage," Johnson said.

Johnson said Taliban militants also tried to group in Oruzgun Province just north of Kandahar for an election-day assault. About 25 Taliban fighters are thought to have been killed by the only U.S. air strike on election day.

"We did not need the American air superiority in the case of securing the elections -- with the exception of one incident [in Oruzgun Province] where we did find a rather large number of Taliban gathering for an attack. We had eyes on them. We followed them for pretty much an afternoon. And as they massed to put together an attack, we did use American air [power] to come in and drop precision-guided munitions on them. It was a pretty large battle-damage assessment that we did. We pretty much incapacitated that group of Taliban," Johnson said.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi has concluded that a so-called three-ring security plan kept militants from getting close to the polling stations.

Under that plan, the Afghan National Police patrolled areas up to 500 meters from each voting station. The Afghan National Army was responsible for security around the national police. The outermost areas of the security ring were protected either by coalition troops or, in some cases, local tribal forces whose family members were going to the polls.

Still, even if things have gone well so far, the electoral process is not finished. UN and Afghan organizers say it could take up to three weeks for ballot boxes in the most remote parts of Afghanistan to be transported by mules and camels to regional vote-counting centers.

Johnson said security forces are escorting those caravans in a bid to make sure the electoral process remains peaceful -- right to the end. "We're absolutely involved and it's still part of the three rings of security. The ANA and ANP are the primary security for all of that [ballot-box] movement," he said. "We are providing the backup for it, and in some cases, in some of the more remote areas, helping to facilitate getting those ballots to a location that they can be counted."

Johnson concluded that the lack of violent protests, as well as the absence of major fighting by regional warlords, shows that Afghans are excited about the democratic process and are accepting it as the way to chose their future leaders.

[For more on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" webpage.]