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General Says Increased Violence No Threat to Afghan Polls

NATO's top military commander says a recent upsurge in violence in Afghanistan does not present a major threat to the country's stability ahead of next month's landmark parliamentary elections.

The man in charge of NATO's military operations, U.S. , says the surge in violence in Afghanistan is not due to a deepening of the Taleban insurgency, but comes from political infighting, criminals and drug traffickers.

The general was speaking to reporters Tuesday at the Kabul headquarters of the NATO-led peacekeeping International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, during a two-day trip to Afghanistan.

The visit comes amid a recent increase in violence and fears that Taleban insurgents plan more attacks before parliamentary elections to be held on September 18th.

General Jones played down those fears, saying he is confident the polls would be a success.

"This is not a coordinated threat that we think could lead to any greater degree of insurrection … The reasons for the attacks are clearly disparate," he said.

More than 10,000 NATO-led peacekeepers are stationed in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well as in northern and western regions of Afghanistan. But the more volatile southern and eastern parts remain the responsibility of the 20,000 strong U.S led anti-terror coalition force that ousted the Taleban from power in late 2001.

General Jones says NATO's plans to expand the peacekeeping operations to the east and south of the country will help restore peace in those Afghan regions.

"As we expand the mission and move into … the southern expansion we will see more presence of NATO troops and coalition forces and I think that will have a calming effect on the level of violence in the region," he added.

Addressing the same news conference, NATO's top civilian envoy to Afghanistan, Turkish diplomat Hikmet Cetin, said that the drugs trade is the biggest threat to peace and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. He says greater international effort is needed to overcome this problem.

"We have to keep in mind that the biggest threat in this country is drugs. Without counter-narcotic we cannot have lasting peace in this country and in this region," said Mr. Cetin.

The Turkish diplomat also urged Afghanistan's neighbors, Pakistan and Iran, to tighten border controls in the run up to the elections to ensure militant forces trying to disrupt the vote are not able to enter Afghanistan.