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August 14, 09

NEWS / Afghan Elections Essential Step in Defeating Taliban Insurgents

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington — The Afghanistan national elections scheduled for August 20 are essential to give legitimacy to the government and are critical for defeating the Taliban, who are struggling to regain a foothold as millions of Afghans register to vote in advance of the elections, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke says.

“Holding an election in a wartime situation is always difficult. Holding one when the enemy has said they’re going to try to disrupt it makes it even more difficult,” Holbrooke told a panel organized by the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based policy research center. Holbrooke is the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department.

Saying there are many issues to focus on, Holbrooke said August 12 that the elections will legitimize the government. He left for Pakistan August 14, will travel to Afghanistan for the elections, and then will make a trip to Turkey, where the Turks are hosting a Friends of Democratic Pakistan meeting.

NATO-led security forces have been enhancing security in advance of the presidential and provincial elections to ensure voters access to polling places, said Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell at a Pentagon briefing August 11. “I think we have 4 million additional Afghan voters who have registered,” for a total of 17 million voters, he said.

“It is our wish to see that these elections are as credible, secure and inclusive as possible and that they result in a legitimate outcome that the Afghan people and the world recognize as the will of the Afghan people,” Morrell said.

On August 20, some 41 candidates, including two women, will vie for the presidency, and another 3,324 people are vying for 420 provincial council seats, Holbrooke said. This is the country’s second democratic election. In the 2004 election, Hamid Karzai was elected president, and he is seeking re-election this year. Parliamentary elections are scheduled separately for 2010.

Holbrooke said that helping the Afghan government prepare for these elections is a strong American Embassy staff, led by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and his deputy, Frank Ricciardone. On the military side is General Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

“We’re not here today to tell you we’re winning or we’re losing. We’re not here today to say we’re optimistic or pessimistic,” Holbrooke said. “We’re here to tell you that we’re in this fight in a different way with a determination to succeed.”

A victory by the Taliban in Afghanistan would give al-Qaida terrorists more terrain from which to operate, he added. Unless the Taliban explicitly renounce al-Qaida, they are basically fighting in support of one another — they are allies, he said.

“If you abandon the struggle in Afghanistan, you will suffer against al-Qaida as well,” Holbrooke added. “We have to be clear on what our national interests are here.”

Afghanistan is among the poorest nations in the world outside of Africa. The country has been battered by 30 years of war, and the United States is committed to rebuilding it, Holbrooke said. Although the military part of the struggle in Afghanistan is not an open-ended event, U.S. civilian assistance will continue much longer, he said.

After the elections have determined a winner, and after any post-election disputes have been resolved, the international community will be looking to the government to take the leadership role, he said.

“We have a vast array of programs which have been deferred, by the delay in the election, which we hope to emphasize as the military pushes forward and disrupts the Taliban,” Holbrooke said.

At an August 13 Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it is essential for U.S. and NATO security forces to ensure adequate security so that Afghanistan’s more than 17 million voters can safely cast ballots throughout the country.

“The role of the Afghan and international military forces is to support an election administered and organized by the government of Afghanistan. The goal is to provide a security environment as conducive as possible to holding a fair, credible election free from violence and intimidation,” Gates said.

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright, also said at the briefing that with the additional security forces in Afghanistan from the U.S. Marines and the Army, a better security mix has been achieved to make the elections secure.




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