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Attempts to Disrupt Afghan Vote Increase, says US Official - 2004-09-25


The top U.S military commander in Afghanistan is warning of more violence, aimed at disrupting the landmark presidential election set for October 9. The warning comes as insurgents are reported to have killed nine Afghan soldiers in southern Afghanistan.

Lt. General David Barno, the head of the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition, says that militants linked to Afghanistan's ousted Taleban and their al-Qaida allies are stepping up plans to disrupt the presidential election. He told reporters that particularly in the south and southeastern parts of Afghanistan, both local and foreign al-Qaida fighters are "encouraging" attempts to disrupt the election process.

"Terrorist attacks will continue, and more than likely even increase as the election nears," said General Barno. "We in the coalition in the Afghan government and people, must stand firm, and not allow a tiny minority of terrorists to negate the hard work and courage of millions of Afghans committed to a future free from oppression."

General Barno says the fact that more than 10 million Afghans have registered to vote shows that the majority in Afghanistan has a real desire for peace and democracy. The American general says Taleban fighters are bent upon disrupting the election, because they are not part of the democratic process.

"Our challenge is to rise up to the level of resolve, the unwavering courage of the Afghan people have shown daily here," he said. "We must remain resolute. We must stay the course."

The presidential election in Afghanistan will be held on October 9. Eighteen candidates, including transitional President Hamid Karzai, will be competing in the first election in decades.

Taleban insurgents have vowed to disrupt the election, and as part of that campaign, they have increased attacks across Afghanistan. They are mainly targeting foreign and local troops, as well as election and aid workers.

Afghan officials are reported as saying that suspected Taleban militants killed nine government soldiers in attacks on several security posts Saturday in the southern province of Helmand.

Monday three American soldiers were killed and 14 others were injured in clashes with insurgents in the southeast border region of the country.

General Barno says that coalition forces have stepped up operations in that area of Afghanistan, where suspected Taleban and al-Qaida militants are more active. He says that on the other side of the border neighboring Pakistan's military forces have intensified efforts to try to prevent insurgents from launching cross-border attacks.

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