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2 Afghan Cities Come Under Minor Rocket Attacks Ahead of Election  - 2004-10-08


Two of Afghanistan's main cities have come under rocket attack on the eve of the country's historic presidential election. But the damage was moderate and not enough to disrupt plans for the voting. Coalition forces are thankful things are not worse.

The first attacks took place in the capital, Kabul.

Security forces say two rockets hit open ground in the east of the city Thursday evening. A third landed early Friday at the parking lot of the news media accreditation center, damaging some vehicles parked there. No casualties were reported from those attacks.

However, two children were injured when several rockets struck the eastern city of Jalalabad Friday morning.

The incidents come one day ahead of Afghanistan's first presidential election.

Remnants of the former hard-line Taleban rulers and their allies have vowed to disrupt the election, calling it a ploy to ensure foreign domination of Afghanistan.

Pro-Taleban militias have been blamed for a series of attacks over the past year that have claimed the lives of 12 election workers.

But officials with the coalition forces hunting down the Taleban fighters say they are surprised the attacks have not been worse.

Major Scott Nelson is a spokesman for the 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He says that recent attacks have been from a distance, and less deadly than other tactics, such as car bombs or troop ambushes.

"Really, the bottom line is, we are quite surprised at the low level of violence," said Major Nelson. "Last night, we did see a bit more of a ramp-up [the level of violence increased slightly] with the rocket attacks, but the tactics, again, have been very much stand-off type tactics, which has been surprising. So, I'm cautiously optimistic."

Taleban strikes last year claimed hundreds of lives, and Major Nelson says the drop in violence could mean recent coalition operations were successful.

He says Afghan and international forces will be closely watching Afghanistan's major cities on election day, Saturday.

"Probably, the largest concern for us is the cities, like Kabul and Kandahar, just because of the impact they have with the international media being in those two locations and in large numbers, so they [anti-coalition forces] have a lot bigger impact to get their terror message out," he said.

Saturday's vote will be followed by a run-off election, if none of the candidates secure more than 50 percent of the vote. A parliamentary election is slated for next spring.

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