5 US Troops, 100 Afghans Killed; Tensions rise over Murky Election Results

A wave of violence and bombings throughout Afghanistan left some 50 Afghan civilians and security forces and 5 US troops dead on Saturday, along with at least 50 Taliban dead.. The most deadly attacks took place in the Pashtun areas of Uruzgan and Qandahar in the south, and Kunar in the east. The northern province of Kunduz and the western one of Farah were also hit. Late reports from Farah speak of a major engagement between the Afghan army and the Taliban, which left 7 soldiers dead and in which 50 Taliban perished.

But note that the violence was mostly in regions with significant Pashtun populations. Kunduz in the north is unusually mixed– most northern provinces do not have that many Pashtuns, but rather are dominated by Tajiks and (further north) Uzbeks.

The political stalemate and increased violence have raised alarms among congressional democrats, who fear a quagmire and are digging in their heels against the prospect of sending yet more troops.

Afghanistan has single-handedly proven wrong the old adage, “no news is good news.” There is no news yet on the final outcome of the Aug. 20 presidential election, and that is very bad news indeed.

With 93% of the votes counted, incumbent President Hamid Karzai seems far enough ahead to avoid a run-off election that would pit him against his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah. The problem is that the UN-sponsored Electoral Complaints Commission, which has a mix of international and Afghan members, is charging widespread fraud, which could if taken seriously reduce Karzai’s margin of victory so far that he would be forced into the run-off. On the other hand, the ECC has no enforcement arm, and it is being countered by the Afghan-dominated independent Electoral Commission, which doesn’t discern as much fraud in the election as the ECC does. The two bodies will meet on Sunday in an attempt to hammer out a compromise.

But with such an extended delay and the widespread accusations of fraud, Karzai risks political turmoil if the public decides that he stole the election. His rival, Abdullah Abdullah, appeals especially to the Tajik ethnic group in the northern half of the country. Karzai is heavily favored by those southern Pashtuns who reject the Taliban. Some observers even worry about the possible outbreak of a Tajik-Pashtun civil war or an armed struggle for control of Kabul, the capital (shades of 1995!)

AP has video on the uncertain state of the election results:

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