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Afghanistan: Amid Violence, U.S. Commander Predicts High Voter Turnout

Campaign posters from some of the roughly 5,800 national and provincial candidates decorate columns in Herat The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said today that he expects high turnout in tomorrow's landmark parliamentary and provincial elections in that country. His remarks came despite a number of guerrilla attacks on police in the run-up to the voting that have underscored the threat of violence hanging over the election process.

Prague, 17 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, predicted that Afghans will turn out in "record numbers" despite the risk of violence.

"Tomorrow, that election is going to go," Eikenberry said. "There will be some violence, but it's going to go. Twelve million registered voters -- they're going to turn out in record numbers to express their will. I am very confident [that] on 19 September, the day after the elections here, we are all going to wake up and realize that the heroes of Afghanistan were the people that went out and cast their vote for their own future."

Security has been a major concern in the run-up to the elections, especially in the south and east, where sympathizers with the former Taliban regime and other insurgents are most active.

The neo-Taliban has denounced the election and called for a boycott.

It has also claimed responsibility for killing several candidates and has promised to attack foreign troops over the election period.
"We are not scared of the Taliban threats. We will go and vote for a better future in our country. And nothing will stop us from voting and participating in our parliamentary elections." -- Kandahar man

In the latest violence, guerrillas overnight attacked police near the capital Kabul and in two southern provinces, Kandahar and Zabul. Those clashes left at least 12 people dead, three of them police officers.

Their deaths add to an already bloody toll this year -- more than 1,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence, most of them militants.

Ahead of the polls, thousands of security forces -- Afghan police and foreign troops -- are on high alert.

More than 50,000 Afghan police and another 28,000 Afghan troops are providing security around the elections to prevent insurgents from disrupting the polling. More than 10,000 international troops are further bolstering efforts to provide security.

There are road checkpoints in Kabul. In Kandahar, all vehicles have been temporarily banned from driving in the city due to fears of car bombs.

Despite the threat of violence, many people say they will exercise their right to vote. -- like this Kandahar man,.

"We are not scared of the Taliban threats," said one man in Kandahar. "We will go and vote for a better future in our country. And nothing will stop us from voting and participating in our parliamentary elections."

Some 12.5 million people in Afghanistan -- with an estimated population of 25 million-28 million -- are registered to vote, which is roughly 1.5 million more than registered before the October 2004 presidential vote that kept transitional leader Hamid Karzai in power.

In that vote, the neo-Taliban also vowed to disrupt the country's presidential election. That time, at least, they failed -- and more than 8 million people turned out to vote.

[For background and an archive of RFE/RL coverage of these elections, see our Afghanistan Votes webpage.]