KABUL (RPRN) 8/19/2009–Afghanistan’s government is trying to assure voters that adequate security is in place for Thursday’s national election. The Taliban vow to disrupt the process by attacking polling stations and retaliating against those who dare to vote. In Kabul, the day before the election, gunmen stormed a bank branch in an attack apparently timed to cause further havoc in the capital.
The Afghan capital, which has seen lethal suicide bombings and mostly harmless rocket attacks in the past week, is under heavy security.
Early on Independence Day Wednesday, a holiday, a trio wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades and AK-47 rifles, stormed a closed bank branch about a kilometer from the Presidential Palace.
Pashtany Bank President Hayat Dayani told VOA the attackers were “real terrorists” who quickly overpowered the guard.
The head of the Interior Ministry’s anti-crime unit, General Abdul Jamil Junbish, tells reporters there was a quick response from his forces.
Junbish says his unit and special forces killed three of the “terrorists” and 30 weapons were recovered. He says several policemen were wounded, typical for what he describes as a “battlefield” type of operation.
The Taliban claim responsibility for the attack and promise further violence before and during the election.
The assault comes a day after a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laded vehicle into a foreign military convoy, just east of the city.
Officials say eight people died – including a NATO soldier and two United Nations workers – and more than 50 other people were injured, mostly Afghan civilians.
There were scattered reports of lethal attacks elsewhere in the country on officials and others involved with election preparations.
Election officials say, in some remote and insecure areas, Army helicopters are making last-minute deliveries of polling materials.
Chief electoral officer Daoud Ali Najafi has announced the ballots for presidential candidates will be quickly tabulated.
“All of the polling stations, they will count the results of the presidential election on Thursday night,” Najafi said.
Preliminary results for the top contest are expected 48 hours after polls close, but the outcomes for the advisory provincial counsels will take longer.
If too many voters are scared away, that could jeopardize the legitimacy of the election, which is already confronting allegations of wholesale vote buying.
Afghan government officials say four tiers of security are in place for Election Day. The outer rings, in the air and on the ground, are being provided by international forces, to protect the thousands of polling stations, nationwide.
There are about 17 million eligible voters. At the top of the ballots – the several dozen presidential candidates, some of whom have dropped out and thrown their support to the incumbent, Hamid Karzai. He leads in polls, but may fall short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff against the number-two finisher.
Photo credit: U.S. Marines prepare to return fire during a security patrol in Nawa district in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2009. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Artur Shvartsberg, courtesy of the Department of Defense.