41 Killed in Qandahar Bombing; Karzai & Abdullah Neck and Neck; Taliban Threaten Western Capitals; 4 US Soldiers Killed

A massive truck bomb was set off near a Japanese construction company in the southwestern city of Qandahar in Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing about 41 and wounding some 65 persons. All the wounded were innocent civilians. It was set off at 7 pm as Afghans were breaking their Ramadan fast, about two hours after the electoral commission had announced limited initial results from the presidential campaign. The Afghan Avaz news service quotes Ghulam Ali Vahdat, a police officer, as saying that all the buildings within 100 yards of the bomb were destroyed, and windows were broken in buildings as far as a kilometer away. The Telegraph reports that the Japanese construction company had recently taken over the building of a road that was being opposed by the Taliban.

There was other violence on Tuesday, including the killing of a top police official in Kunduz in the north, and and the killing of 4 US soldiers in the Pashtun south by a roadside bomb. The deaths bring the August total to 40 Americans dead, and likely August will be more deadly for them than July, when 45 were killed. July’s total was the biggest in the history of the war from fall, 2001, forward.

Australian troops killed Mulla Karim, a Taliban commander, in Oruzgan province. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban acknowledged the death of their leader, Baitullah Mahsud. The US maintains that he was killed by an American drone attack in Waziristan. In retaliation, a new leader of the Pakistan Taliban Movement has threatened to strike at Washington, London and Paris.

The Afghanistan Electoral Commission, having counted 10 percent of the ballots from last Thursday’s presidential election, has announced that the two leading candidates are nearly neck and neck. Incumbent Hamid Karzai has 40.6 percent so far, and Abdullah Abdullah is just behind at 38.7. Initial indications are that the turnout was lower than at first thought, perhaps as low as 30%, which is unprecedented in recent years, and which will affect the perceived legitimacy of the outcome. If the spread between the two candidates continues to be so close, Karzai will be denied the 50 percent of votes that would allow him to avoid a run-off election. Since Karzai is heavily supported by the Pashtun population (44%?), while Abdullah draws his votes disproportionately from the Tajiks (Dari Persian-speaking settled Sunnis), there are fears that a run-off election between these two will inflame ethnic tensions. These fears have been further excited by charges by Abdullah and some of the other candidates that massive ballot fraud occurred.

ITN has video on the issue of fraud in the election:

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