Afghanistan

Afghan leader predicts violence, NATO pledges troops

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By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, June 15 (Reuters) - Afghanistan will face more violence ahead of September elections, President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday as the NATO-led peacekeeping force announced plans for 2,000 extra troops to protect the polls.

"Until the elections, this country will have difficulties, attacks will increase on us, terrorism will rise ... conspiracy will increase against our country," he told a function in Kabul.

"But without any doubt, our nation will succeed, as it did during the presidential elections."

Karzai did not identify the threat, but when referring to terrorism, Afghan officials mean the Taliban guerrillas and their al Qaeda allies who have stepped up attacks in recent months.

Detailing plans for the additional troops, a spokeswoman for NATO's 8,300-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said a Dutch battalion would be stationed in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, one from Romania in Kabul and another from Spain in the western city of Herat.

"Over two thousand additional ISAF troops will be brought in as Election Support Forces," Major Karen Tissot Van Patot told a news briefing.

More aircraft would also be sent to ensure that troops were able to respond quickly to any breaking situation.

She said the aim was to have the additional troops on the ground six to eight weeks before the Sept. 18 polls.

TALIBAN PLAN MORE ATTACKS

The separate 20,000-strong U.S.-led force pursuing Taliban and al Qaeda militants will have a battalion of 500-700 troops standing by outside Afghanistan and ready to be deployed if needed, spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore told the briefing.

The Taliban failed in their vow to derail the presidential polls, which were easily won by Karzai, but more than a dozen election workers were killed before the voting and the risks to the more complex parliamentary polls are substantially higher.

In an interview with Pakistan's Geo Television broadcast on Wednesday, Mullah Akhtar Usmani, a member of the Taliban's 10-man leadership council, said U.S.-led forces could expect more attacks this year.

Last week, the Taliban killed an election worker, and dozens of government troops, some aid workers and 13 U.S. soldiers have died in violence since March. More than 150 insurgents have been killed, according to government and U.S. military figures.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, U.S. and Afghan forces killed another nine Taliban fighters and detained 21 during operations in southern Afghanistan aimed at containing rising guerrilla violence, a senior Afghan army officer said.

Key to the success of the election will be Pakistan, which sealed off its border at the time of the presidential poll to prevent militants crossing into Afghanistan to launch attacks.

Pakistan has promised to take similar steps this year.

Regional military strongmen are also seen as a threat for the elections, which has been delayed several times and were supposed to have been held at the same time as the presidential polls.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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