U.S. Commander: Afghan Elections Significant Milestone
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2004 The Afghan presidential election on Oct. 9 represented a significant milestone on the country's road to a brighter future, the U.S. general in charge of coalition forces there said.
Army Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, who heads Combined Forces
Command Afghanistan, briefs reporters Oct. 19 at the Pentagon on operations
conducted in support of the recent Afghan elections. Photo by R.D.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The first election in 40 years and the first truly democratic election in Afghan history was a monumental accomplishment by any measure, Army Lt. Gen. David Barno said during a press conference in the Pentagon.
"After suffering decades of war and oppression, Afghanistan experienced the freedom of choice that democracy brings," said Barno, who heads Combined Forces Command Afghanistan. "Through the success of the election, the Afghan people demonstrated their courage and resolve to the world. Voter participation on that historic day was inspiring by any standard."
He said current projections indicate that nearly 8.4 million Afghans voted. That number includes more than 800,000 voting from Pakistan and Iran.
Terrorists tried intimidation tactics and threatened violence. The Afghan people, however, were determined to decide their future so much so that people reportedly waited in lines 2.5 kilometers long just to cast a ballot in an area of Kandahar province, Barno said. There were reports of lines forming in the cold and snow at 3 a.m. and people waiting four hours for the polls to open in the mountains. They ignored rockets that landed nearby and refused to be driven away, he said.
"These efforts will forever remain a testament to the will and perseverance of each Afghan citizen, man and woman, that made their voice heard that day in a call for freedom and democracy for themselves and future generations," Barno said. "By gathering peacefully, waiting patiently, and casting their individual votes, the Afghan people determined their future would be one of their own choosing and not one forced on them by others.
"They delivered a clear message to the terrorists who sought to deny them that future, a message that has been heard around the world," he said.
Barno also praised the many organizations that contributed to the safety and security of the elections, including the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army. They deserve special recognition for their efforts around the country that permitted Afghans to cast their ballots in an environment free of violence, he said.
In the week leading up to the elections, Afghan and coalition forces discovered and stopped dozens of potential attacks, seized nearly 60 improvised explosive devices, recovered ordnance, and arrested 22 individuals carrying weapons, munitions and explosive devices, he said.
"The overwhelming success of their efforts and of the election as a whole represent a significant defeat for the Taliban and al Qaeda and a significant victory for the millions of Afghans who chose to embark on a great journey to freedom and self determination," Barno said.
The general was asked during a question-and-answer session about any chance of the election being invalidated due to alleged technical glitches. He said international observers said they saw no threat of that occurring.
Barno also was queried about the U.S. role in the control of poppy production as Afghan re-emerges as the leading producer of the flower used in making opium. He said U.S. troops will most likely be more involved in interdiction efforts rather than eradication.
The general also said he is completely comfortable with the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, currently about 18,000, and that he has been able to bring in extra troops as needed.
When questioned about Osama bin Laden, Barno said there is no indication that the al Qaeda leader is still in command and control of day-to-day operations. But there is also no reason to think bin Laden is not still alive, he said.