U.S. General Details Afghan Election Effort
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Aug. 19, 2005 The Afghan and coalition effort to hold elections Sept. 18 is ongoing, and the process will extend until the National Assembly is seated in December or January, the head of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan said today.
Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry spoke with reporters traveling with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers is in the midst of a 10-day trip that has taken him and a USO troupe to Germany, Kosovo, Kuwait and Iraq before stopping here and at the main air base in Afghanistan in Bagram.
Eikenberry said he is "very comfortable" with what has already been done and with what has been planned for the September elections. He said the process is based on the successes seen in the October 2004 presidential election.
"The basic concept is pretty simple," he said. There will be thousands of polling places set up around the country. Six Afghan police will be stationed inside the polling stations to maintain order and provide close-in security.
Officials will place a ring of Afghan police or soldiers from the Afghan National Army around the polling stations. Supporting them will be quick-reaction forces from the Army or police.
Still farther outside will be coalition forces or members of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. There are about 8,500 soldiers in ISAF and about 21,000 servicemembers in the coalition force - most of them American.
The Afghan government has about 25,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army and about 50,000 Afghan National Police, Eikenberry said. "We're the final ring of quick-reaction forces," he said. "The closer you get in to the polling site itself, the more it is an Afghan-led and Afghan-conducted operation."
The Afghan government developed the security plan with assistance from staff at Eikenberry's headquarters.
Last October an overwhelming number of Afghans defied the Taliban and al Qaeda remnants in the country and voted Hamid Karzai into the presidency.
But the process does not end when Afghans cast their votes on Sept. 18. It won't be until the end of October that official results will be announced. The newly elected members of the National Assembly may not take their seats until the middle of December or even January. "The election process is not over until that parliament is seated," Eikenberry said.
The general said the coalition and Afghan soldiers have kept the pressure on the Taliban during the summer months - typically the time of combat in the country.
He said that Afghan security capacity has grown dramatically since the presidential elections and that Afghan soldiers participate in roughly 65 percent of all operations in the country.
If the Afghans and coalition do not take the fight to the enemy, the Taliban will "attack innocents," Eikenberry said. The Taliban extremists will attempt to disrupt the election by intimidating candidates, murdering poll workers and launching attacks against polling places.
He said there is probably more Taliban in the field today than last year. "The explanation can be that the Taliban leadership ... is trying to put together combinations of forces to come at this election, knowing that if they suffer a defeat in this election, that is another huge strategic setback for them in the long term," he said.
Army Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76 based in Bagram, said that between April and June, his forces had killed between 450 and 500 Taliban fighters. He said it seems as if the Taliban is trying to "thicken" its forces in the country to disrupt the election.
The coalition has responded by bringing in the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, from Fort Bragg, N.C., this summer. This addition enables the coalition to maintain its offensive against the Taliban and disrupt them before they can attack.
Kamiya said the strategy seems to be having an effect: The Taliban fighters they are coming up against are younger and less experienced than in the past. Control issues in the organization also means the fighters are staying in larger groups. "We're fine with that," Kamiya said.
Eikenberry said coalition forces are able to range much farther and with more persistence than last year. "The reason is a more capable Afghan National Army," he said.
The general is on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. His first assignment was as head of the U.S. security coordinator and chief of the Office of Military Cooperation for a year ending in September 2003.
He said since taking over the command three months ago, he has traveled to 15 provinces in the country and spoken to more than a thousand Afghans of all ethnicities and walks of life.
"I ask if they are aware of the election. They say 'yes,'" he said. "I ask if they are going to vote, they answer in the typical Afghan way by saying, 'Why not?' And then I ask them why they will vote and they say, 'I'm going to vote because I'm tired of warfare and I should have a stake now in the future of our country.'"
"Between now and the 18th of September (the enemy) can't beat that," he said.