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Optimism for Afghan election

From NBC's Courtney Kube
A spokesman for the NATO troops responsible for Afghan security said today he was confident insurgents would not keep the Afghan people from voting this week.

"Clearly, they do not have the capacity to intimidate and prevent 15 million Afghans voters that have registered for this election," said Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, during a briefing from Kabul. 

Despite Tremblay's confidence, daily attacks in Afghanistan have increased more than 30% from just over a week ago (they are up from about 32 per day 10 days ago to about 48 today). Asked about those attack numbers, Tremblay pointed out that with about 6,500 polling stations around the country, that would translate to less than 1% of the voting locations being subject to attack on Election Day.

The Australian general serving as chief of the ISAF Election Task Force was also optimistic, declaring that the security would allow "reasonable access to about 85 percent to 90 percent" of estimated 15-to-17 million voters now registered.

Brig. Gen. Damian Cantwell voiced his support for the Afghan Election Peace Day Initiative, saying that ISAF forces are under order to "maintain a low profile, but agile posture," on Election Day, but not to engage in any offensive operations that are not related to election security.

"Now, of course, the ball is now in the insurgents' court," Cantwell said.

Cantwell conceded not all areas would have high voter turnout. 

"Those areas that we're not likely to see a strong turnout from the voters probably are in those areas that have been held by the Taliban and other insurgent groups for some time," he said, adding that Afghans "living in areas that have been subject to the most recent security operations" would also likely see lower turnout.

Cantwell pointed to "pockets within the Helmand and Kandahar provinces, some areas in the East of the country, even some areas, to a lesser extent, in the North and West," as having potentially low turn out due to Taliban influence. 

Nearly 300,000 troops -- Afghan, NATO ISAF, and U.S. Forces Afghanistan -- will be directly involved in securing these elections.