Coalition, Afghan Forces Gear up for October Election
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2004 Coalition forces in Afghanistan are gearing up for the Oct. 9 elections in that country, Pentagon officials said today.
There are about 18,000 coalition forces in Afghanistan, with about 16,500 of them American. In addition, about 7,000 NATO service members are serving as the International Security Assistance Force.
Coalition officials in Afghanistan said U.S. and other coalition forces are moving in the country to help the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police provide security for the elections.
Afghan and coalition officials were pleased with the response the call for elections produced in the Afghan people. About 9.8 million Afghans registered to vote in the elections that will choose a president. Around 42 percent of those who have registered are women.
U.N. officials in New York said reports from the country convince them that Afghanistan will have free and fair elections. They said safeguards are in place to ensure people vote only once and that only those eligible will vote.
The problem will be security, U.N. officials said.
Combined Forces Command Afghanistan officials believe that Taliban remnants will try to disrupt the elections. Part of Operation Lightning Resolve is to counter the Taliban and al Qaeda threat to polling places and to voters. A military official in the Pentagon said that some relocations of coalition forces within the country have already been made, and others are pending.
The official said the coalition forces are not the only guarantor of security: the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police are becoming increasingly effective.
The Afghan National Army now has about 15,000 troops based around the country. They are working with coalition forces and on their own to provide a safe and secure environment for the election, officials said.
More coalition troops are coming to the country to provide security. A Spanish battalion and an Italian battalion have begun deployment to the country. They will be in place well before the October election, said NATO officials.