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US General: Tough Fight Expected Before Afghan Elections

A top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan says the upcoming parliamentary elections will be successful, but he expects a tough fight between coalition forces and remnants of the Taleban regime before the voting begins next month. Brigadier General James Champion made the remarks during a news briefing

General Champion, the deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, says nearly 12 million Afghans have registered to vote for a new national assembly in the September 18 elections.

The general says almost 6,000 Afghans have filed to run as candidates for 249 seats in parliament and local council elections.

Despite those positive developments, General Champion predicts anti-coalition militias will continue to be responsible for local violence, criminal activity and civic unrest as former elements of the Taleban regime try to disrupt the democratic process.

"The enemy knows what is at stake in the upcoming parliamentary elections," he said. "We anticipate he will continue to challenge us. We know we will have a tough fight up to and through the elections, but we do not view it as a battle between militaries or religion, rather as a battle of confidence and will."

General Champion says Taleban fighters, former warlords and drug lords are still trying to maintain control in some parts of Afghanistan, especially in the volatile southern provinces and along the border with Pakistan.

He says coalition forces are aggressively pursuing those who are violently opposing the Afghan government.

"They operate in small groups and conduct operations in areas where the coalition forces have not had a presence," he explained. "They go where we are not and we go where they are. Our operations will remain very fluid in our pursuit of the enemy."

General Champion says Taleban fighters are attacking so-called soft targets, including some members of the Muslim clergy, in an effort to disrupt the election process.

He says they are also now recruiting 14 to15-year-old boys in an attempt to increase their ranks.

"The Taleban are becoming more ruthless and continue to target governmental leaders, and even popular Muslim religious leaders," he added. "We are seeing an increased threat to use suicide bombs. Their recruiting has been effected, because we are seeing more and more young fighters and the fact that they are not very well trained."

General Champion says there are currently about 18,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. An 8,000 strong NATO-led force maintains security in Kabul and in parts of the country's north and west.