Afghan Elections Present Opportunities, Challenges
By Samantha Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2004 In two weeks, Afghanistan will freely choose its next president. The elections will not take place without challenge, Lt. Gen. David Barno said during a news conference in Kabul Sept. 25.
While Barno, head of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, describes the number of insurgents active in Afghanistan a "tiny few," he said it is likely that violence will increase as the elections near.
"The will of a tiny few cannot be allowed to cancel out the votes of so many millions of Afghans who choose freedom," Barno said. "Terrorist attacks will continue and more than likely even increase as the election nears.
"The will and resolve of the international community in the face of dangers cannot be viewed as an Achilles heel for terrorists to strike."
Despite insurgent attacks throughout the registration process, the Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body and United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan have registered 10.5 million voters across the country since late spring, Barno said. This number far exceeds the most optimistic projections.
More than 40 percent of the total number of registered voters are women.
Barno said it was the resolve of the Afghan people that helped make the registration effort such an unexpected success.
"In the face of intimidation and attacks, the Afghan people stood firm, and went to registration sites in extraordinary numbers, exceeding the most optimistic of projections," he said. "Of particular note were the reactions even of those Afghans who were targeted by terrorists during this process, such as the female JEMB workers in Jalalabad. They insisted on keeping the process running and by their example encouraged every afghan to reject terrorism and intimidation by registering and voting."
There are 18 candidates vying for the Afghan presidency, Barno said. The field is representatives of all ethnic groups and constituencies in the country.
President Hamid Karzai, who recently escaped an assassination attempt, has finalized his slate. His shifting of key players demonstrates the power of peaceful political change, Barno said.
While insurgent strikes continue, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police also continue building. Barno said the ANA is nearly 14,000 strong. With its most recent graduating class, the ANP now numbers nearly 21,000.
These groups have been instrumental quashing recent uprisings in the western part of the country, he said. They have demonstrated the ability to move in quickly and retake control.
"As the ANA and ANP grow and become stronger, more and more they are working side by side with coalition forces to hunt down and remove terrorists and confront the forces of lawlessness," Barno said. "Their success and their growing role form the cornerstone of long-term security and stability in the country."
The Pakistani army is also coordinating with Afghan and coalition forces to secure the border, particularly in the southeast.
Barno said that procedures for processing any terrorists captured and put into a DoD detention facility have been tightened. In May, he ordered an inspection of all DoD-run detainee facilities in Afghanistan.
"(Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby) has completed his report, and the document is presently being reviewed by our leadership in Washington," Barno said. "I fully intend to personally brief you all on the report when all reviews are complete. We have made and will continue to make changes to our policies and procedures in order to assure that our detainees are treated humanely."
Progress is also being made in the reconstruction of the war-torn country. Barno said there are currently 19 provisional reconstruction teams in Afghanistan 14 U.S. and 5 NATO. Just a year ago there were only four. He also said that the PRTs and tactical units have spent more than $40 million this year. Much of that has been spent in the south and east. He expects that figure to climb to more than $60 million next year.
But for now, the upcoming election is the main concern. "Our challenge, the international community's challenge, is to rise up to the level of resolve shown daily here by our hosts, the people of Afghanistan," Barno said. "We must remain resolute. We must stay the course. We must not allow the dangers posed by those who oppose all vestiges opersonal freedom and democracy to highjack this process by terrorism and intimidation."