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US General: Afghan Election Marks Taleban Defeat - 2004-10-13


The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan is calling Saturday's Afghan presidential election a major defeat for militants loyal to the country's former Taleban regime.

Lieutenant General David Barno says the lack of large Taleban attacks against voters during the Afghan election shows the old regime's inability to threaten the new democracy there.

"The overwhelming success of this election is a strategic defeat for the Taleban and al-Qaida and is a turning point for Afghanistan," he said.

For months, Taleban fighters and their allies had vowed to use force to disrupt the first Afghan presidential election, which they called a ploy to allow foreign domination of the country.

Despite fears of wide-spread violence, anti-election attacks were limited to a few skirmishes and mostly ineffective rocket attacks.

Vote counting has been delayed after some presidential candidates filed complaints alleging fraud and other irregularities. They had originally threatened a boycott of the entire election process, but most have since said they will abide by the findings of a joint Afghan-United Nations investigation.

General Barno added that he did not think the Taleban is exhausted as a force, and that the militants will likely continue sporadic attacks to make their presence felt in Afghanistan, particularly during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"I think that over the next month or two, traditionally during the Ramadan period here, we see an increased spike of attacks, so the war is not over, but this battle was a great success for the Afghan people," General Barno said.

In a statement to VOA, Taleban spokesman Abdul-Latif Hakimi said his forces held off on mass attacks on voting centers to avoid killing Muslims.

He said Taleban forces were successful in cutting voter turnout in the southeastern province of Zabul, a claim disputed by Afghan election officials.

He said the Taleban would continue to conduct attacks, specifically targeting U.S. forces and the Afghans working with them.

The United States has about 18,000 troops in the country to hunt down the Taleban and its allies in the al-Qaida terror network, as well as to help provide security as Afghanistan rebuilds.

General Barno also says the United States will assume that Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida chief, is alive until finding evidence to the contrary.

He said finding bin Laden and other wanted figures, such as Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, is difficult, due to the large size of the Afghan-Pakistani border area where they are believed to be hiding.