Afghanistan is due to hold landmark elections in September. But concerns continue to be raised about security for the run-up to the polls and the voting. The United States is suggesting Canadian peacekeepers stay a bit longer to help with security. But Canada has been cool to a U.S. suggestion that Canadian troops due to leave Afghanistan in August stay on an extra month to help with election security.
Canada is due to turn the rotating command of the 6,100 member International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, known as ISAF over to NATO in August, and the bulk of the 1,900 member Canadian contingent is to be pulled out.
But with Afghanistan's elections to be held in September, U.S. officials are asking that Canada delay its departure for a month.
At a recent seminar at the Middle East Institute, State Department Coordinator for Afghanistan William Taylor said Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali could use the extra help.
"It would be good, we are suggesting, that the Canadians could stay on an extra month if the Europeans could get there on time in August so that in September you would have an overlap," said Mr. Taylor. "Then in September, therefore, you would have nearly double the number of troops that you otherwise would have. And that would give us, give Minister Jalali another, larger tool that he could use to provide security for these elections."
But a spokeswoman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Ottawa told VOA that the Canadian military contingent of ISAF is still scheduled to leave Afghanistan in August, and to be replaced by a smaller Canadian force of 600. She said no request for an extension has been received from NATO.
Security is a prime concern for the elections, which are to be held under U.N. supervision. Interim president Hamid Karzai, who is widely expected to win the presidential election, has little real power outside the capital. Control of Afghanistan is actually wielded by so-called warlords, local and regional leaders backed by their private militias.
ISAF has no peacekeeping mandate outside Kabul. Mr. Taylor says remnants of the Taleban are also trying to disrupt the election process.
Recently two British election workers and their translator were killed while trying to register voters in remote Nuristan province. Only about 2.3 of Afghanistan's 10.5 million eligible voters have been registered.
Mr. Taylor says a newly trained Afghan police force will have primary responsibility for security at polling places. But, he says, that will not be enough. "The United States is helping the Germans, who are in the lead on training police, and we and the Germans hope to have 20,000 police trained, freshly trained, by this summer," said Mr. Taylor. "So that is a good start. But you can do the math. Four-thousand-600 polling places and only 20,000 newly trained police. It is not enough. We clearly have more to do."
Mr. Taylor says the new Afghan National Army, which is being raised and trained by the United States, will also be available to help with election security. But some analysts say the new army will be too new and inexperienced to be of real help, and that troops of the U.S.-led coalition searching for al-Qaida and Taleban remnants will need to be called on in the event of trouble with the elections.