A suicide bomber penetrated several rings of security in Kabul and detonated his payload outside NATO headquarters next to the American Embassy, killing 7 persons and wounding 91. Police and a parliamentarian are among the wounded.
AFP reports that as many as 10 percent of voting places may be closed on election day, out of fear of a Taliban attack.
The USG Open Source Center has pulled together a translated or paraphrased summary of the way Afghan officials are playing down the possibility of substantial attacks during the Aug. 20 presidential election:
‘ OSC Report Afghan Officials Downplay Taliban Election Security Threat
Afghanistan — OSC Report
Friday, August 14, 2009
Document Type: OSC Report
Afghan Officials Downplay Taliban Election Security Threat
Senior Afghan officials have expressed confidence in election security plans and downplayed the Taliban’s 30 July threat to disrupt voting. Questions remain as to how many voting centers will be safe enough to open for the 20 August election , but officials have suggested that anywhere from 93 to 500 out of the total of around 6,500 voting centers may have to be closed or relocated because of security concerns.
Senior Afghan officials have expressed confidence in their security plans and have downplayed the threat the Taliban pose to the election, (1) although some concede that attacks are inevitable.
Defense Ministry spokesman Gen Zaher Azimi said “300,000 Afghan and foreign soldiers” had been assigned to ensure election security (Ariana TV, 5 August). He stated no “suicide attacker or explosive packed vehicle” would be able to breach security at the polling stations and that the ministry would remain in a “state of emergency” until the after the elections (Tolo TV, 5 August).
Speaking on Tolo TV’s ‘Goftoman’ program, Gen Azimi accused the media of exaggerating the Taliban threat, which he said was distorting the “real” security situation. He said the Taliban were unable to meet Afghan forces “face-to-face” (5 August). On Tolo TV’s ‘Elections 88’ program on 2 August Azimi called the Taliban threat “propaganda.”
Deputy Interior Minister Munir Mangal said: “We will dispatch more personnel to guard the polling stations facing major threats. The forces will be stationed based on our plan (2) (effective from 13 August). All polling stations will be opened and all logistical election equipment will be transferred to the districts and polling stations.” Mangal added: “We cannot guarantee 100% that there will be no threat but measures have been taken to foil any threat” (Tolo TV, 6 August).
Interior Minister Hanif Atmar reiterated that elections would be held in “all southern and eastern regions,” including “Ghazni, despite all the Taliban threats,” and in “Kandahar, Helmand, Farah, Maydan-Wardag, Paktika, and Nurestan” (Radio Afghanistan, 2 August). On Tolo TV’s “Elections 88” program, Independent Election Commission (IEC) spokesman Nur Mohammad Nur called the Taliban threat “not serious” and said he had faith that Afghans would counter the threat by turning out to vote (2 August).
Afghan media have reported details of additional security measures, include hiring locals to act as guards during the election and engaging religious and tribal elders to secure localized cease-fires with the Taliban.
The Herat governor’s spokesman said around 1,000 locals would be recruited as security guards in high risk districts during the election (Herat TV, 9 August). An Ariana TV report, meanwhile, said “tribal security guards” would be used to support Afghan security forces in Paktia and Khost provinces (3 August).
Sahil Sanjar, head of policy in the presidential office, confirmed the cease-fire with the Taliban in Bala Morghab district in Badghis province. He said “local elders, mosque imams and pious religious scholars” took part in the talks and that the Taliban there agreed not to disrupt the election process (Tolo TV, 5 August).
An Ariana TV report said “50 tribal elders and some provincial officials” were involved in the Bala Morghab deal. Maj-Gen Jalandar Shah Behnam, 207 Corps Commander, said: “The Taliban agreed to withdraw from some strategic points to allow people to go to the polls. We (the army) were not involved in the talks, and as per recommendations by provincial officials and an agreement with the defense ministry, our forces have withdrawn from some villages in the district” (27 July).
Despite their expressions of confidence in security plans, Afghan officials have differed on the number of secure voting centers, reflecting the fluctuating security situation and ongoing military operations.
Presidential spokesman Homayun Hamidzada said 94 of the 6,500 polling centers still had security problems (Pajhwok Afghan News, 11 August), while Gen Azimi said all polling stations would be open but that some may be “relocated due to technical problems or security concerns” (Tolo TV, 5 August).
IEC official Zakaria Barakzai said “there is a strong possibility that 93 polling stations will not be opened in 10 districts,” but that military operations had been launched in 35 districts and a final list of insecure polling stations would be available by 16 August (Tolo TV, 10 Aug).
Deputy Interior Minister Gen Mohammad Munir Mangal said 10 provinces were insecure and that “eight districts” were under Taliban control (Tolo TV, 6 August). The defense and interior ministers, meanwhile, told a cabinet briefing that 500 voting centers faced security threats (Bakhtar News Agency, 3 August).’
End/ (Not Continued)