Voting underway in Afghanistan, most Americans oppose more troops

Afghans are voting in presidential and provincial elections amid Taliban warnings and sporadic attacks across the country under US-West occupation.

Voting underway in Afghanistan, most Americans oppose more troops

Afghans are on Thursday voting in presidential and provincial elections amid Taliban warnings and sporadic attacks across the country under US-West occupation.

Scores of people queued up at polling stations in the capital Kabul and major cities under government control, but turnout was low in parts of the south where the Taliban have a strong presence.

In Kabul, authorities searched cars and people at checkpoints, while officials frisked people queuing up to vote at some polling stations.

Voting centres opened at 7:00 am (0230 GMT), but the electoral commission said it would only announce later in the day how many sites had opened despite the deployment of 300,000 Afghan and foreign forces.

Thursday marks only Afghanistan's second direct presidential election under a system installed after the Taliban were toppled from power by US-West in late 2001.

Seventeen million Afghans have registered to elect a president and 420 councillors in 34 provinces across the largely rural and impoverished country.

A tense government threatened to expel foreign journalists who violate a ban -- ordered in the "national interest" -- on reporting attacks during the elections and vowed to close any local media outlet that does the same.

"Second round run-off likely"

Two Taliban insurgents were killed in a gunbattle in the capital and rockets fell on several towns, mainly in the south and east.

In a series of statements before the election, Taliban fighters claimed they had entered the capital with 20 men and would close all the country's roads.

But Aleem Siddique, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Kabul, said "the vast majority of polling stations have been able to open and have received voting materials."

"We are seeing queues forming at polling stations in the north, also in the capital, as well as, encouragingly, in the east," he said.

President Hamid Karzai cast his ballot under tight security at a high school near his presidential palace in Kabul. He told reporters it would be "in the nation's interest" if the election was decided in a single round.

He faces an unexpectedly strong challenge from former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Polls suggest Karzai may not get enough votes to avoid a second round run-off, likely in October. Preliminary results are not expected for at least two weeks.

Obama's envoy for the region, Richard Holbrooke, toured polling stations in Kabul and said the voting he'd seen was "open and honest".

Rockets

Two Taliban fighters were engaged in a shootout with Afghan forces in the capital. Abdullah Uruzgani, a police battalion commander, told Reuters the two were later killed. A Reuters team was allowed inside to film their bodies.

In northern Baghlan province, Taliban fighters attacked a police post, killing a district police chief.

Rockets hit the cities of Kandahar, Lashkar Gah, Ghazni and Kunduz, where two election observers were wounded at a polling station. In the eastern city of Gardez, a police official said two suicide bombers on motorcycles blew themselves up but caused no casualties.

"Not worth fighting"

A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, a new poll in the Washington Post found.

The new poll comes as U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, could ask for more troops when he issues a report next week.

More than 30,000 U.S. troops have arrived in Afghanistan this year, raising the size of the international force above 100,000 for the first time, including 63,000 Americans.

The situation is serious and we need to turn the momentum of the "enemy", but we can do that, he told the BBC.

"Should Obama embrace his generals' call for even more forces, he would risk alienating some of his staunchest supporters," WP said.

The poll found 51 percent who said the war was not worth fighting, while 47 percent said it was worth it.

Only a quarter in the poll favored sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan while almost twice as many would like to see the number of troops decreased.


Agencies

Last Mod: 20 Ağustos 2009, 15:24
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