Generals Discuss NATO Role in Afghan Elections
By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2009 The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is supporting Afghan security forces’ efforts to secure polling centers, reduce the effects of insurgents and counter voter apathy in some regions in advance of tomorrow’s presidential and provincial council elections.
“We are doing everything we can in conjunction with our Afghan partners to provide the very best security arrangements, and we’ve worked hard to reassure the local Afghan communities that they should take part in the election process,” Australian Brig. Gen. Damian Cantwell, chief of ISAF’s election task force, said yesterday during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable.
Cantwell described some of the measures ISAF has taken, including taking part in a day-long security rehearsal and sending representatives to meet with local election planners.
“We’ve gone out to each location, we’ve listened to their joint security planning supported by ISAF, [and] we’ve asked them quite telling questions about how they are going to execute the security plan on the day,” said Cantwell, who added he is impressed with what he has seen. “What we are talking about here is a team of security professionals who have demonstrated a very strong desire to do the very best for their people.”
Cantwell and Canadian Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, an ISAF spokesman, said they expect the recent spike in insurgent activity to continue. But Tremblay noted that while insurgents have averaged 32 attacks a day for the past 10 days, they can’t disrupt 6,500 polling stations throughout Afghanistan.
“Clearly, when you look at those numbers, they don’t have the capacity to intimidate and prevent the 15 million Afghan voters that have been registered for these elections,” Tremblay said.
Cantwell added that ISAF officials don’t underestimate the threat or brutality of the Taliban, “but we need to be careful not to further the enemy’s propaganda by continuing to talk about the sorts of threats that he would like us to talk about and spread them amongst the Afghan population.”
The elections will represent a milestone in Afghanistan, Cantwell said.
“We view the election and our support to it as a critical step in the development of the mission in Afghanistan, and indeed the development of Afghanistan as a democratic nation,” he said. “But it is one of many steps that we are seeking to move forward.”
In addition to assisting with election security measures, Cantwell said, ISAF supports missions for reconstruction and stabilization, improving governance and rebuilding state institutions in Afghanistan.
(Judith Snyderman works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)