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Taliban vow to intensify pre-poll Afghan attacks

Last Updated: Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 20:22

Kabul: The Taliban vowed on Thursday to intensify their attacks in the build-up to Afghanistan`s Presidential Election next week as authorities tried to play down fears that the Islamists could wreck the poll.

As the international community said a deadly Taliban attack on a UN hostel in Kabul would not disrupt the November 7 run-off, the Islamist militia said they had drawn up a battle plan designed to torpedo the process.

Organisers of the election, meanwhile, said they had agreed to a demand from President Hamid Karzai`s challenger, ex-foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, for 20,000 of his observers to be accredited to help prevent vote-rigging.

Wednesday`s attack on the Bekhtar guesthouse, carried out by three Taliban fighters who blew themselves up after a two-hour gunbattle, has raised the stakes for the international community ahead of the crucial poll. Foreigners hunker down after Kabul hostel attack.

A Taliban spokesman dismissed claims in Kabul that the militants` capability had diminished since a fraud-tainted first round in August, saying Afghan security services "are not effective against our operations and tactics."

"We`ll intensify our attacks in the coming days. We`ll disrupt the elections," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"We have new plans and tactics for attacks to disrupt the elections."

Assaults and intimidation by the Taliban, who were toppled by US-led forces in 2001, were a major deterrent to voters in the first round of the election on August 20 when turnout in some provinces was as low as five percent.

Almost 200 violent incidents around the first vote were attributed to the Taliban, including rocket and grenade attacks on polling stations.

The Afghan Defence Ministry, however, played down the prospects of widespread Taliban attacks this time.

"The enemy had prepared for months with foreign support, allocating loads of funds to disrupt the elections in a well-planned effort," spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.

"This time round, they haven`t had the same amount of time to prepare a campaign of attacks and the Pakistani Taliban who helped the Afghan Taliban last time to disturb the election are busy fighting in Pakistan."

More than 100,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and US President Barack Obama is mulling a request by his commander on the ground, General Stanley McChrystal, for tens of thousands of reinforcements.

Security for the second round was discussed by David Petraeus, the US general with overall responsibility for the Afghan and Iraq campaigns, at talks with Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, his Ministry said.

A White House spokesman said the Taliban`s attempts to wreck the poll would not succeed.

"In Kabul obviously there is an attempt by some to disrupt the will of the Afghan people in choosing their next government that this administration believes will not succeed," said Robert Gibbs.

The United Nations said its head of mission in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, had spoken to the Afghan Interior Minister, who had given assurances that security would be enhanced in the wake of the attack.

Apart from security fears, the election is taking place against continued concerns over fraud.

Karzai was forced into a run-off after falling fractionally short of an outright majority in a first round riddled with fraud.

Nearly a quarter of all votes were eventually discounted after being deemed fraudulent and Abdullah has demanded the head of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), who was appointed by Karzai, be sacked.

The commission said it would try to ensure a "fraud-free" run-off while again resisting calls for IEC chief Azizullah Ludin`s dismissal.

"We will try our best to avoid the mistakes made in the first round to hold a transparent and fraud-free election," said deputy chief electoral officer Zakaria Barakzai.

The IEC also agreed to a request by Abdullah that more of his supporters have accreditation rights at polling centres.

"One part of Dr Abdullah`s demands was 20,000 new candidate agents from his side should be accredited, we agree to that and we will deliver the accreditation badges to his campaign by Saturday," said Barakzai.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 20:22

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