Nightly News   |  August 20, 2009

Bullets blast, but ballots still cast in Afghanistan

Aug. 20: Violence and intimidation didn't stop the vote in Afghanistan's elections Thursday, but they may have contributed to a tight race, inadvertently guaranteeing another election. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

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ANN CURRY, anchor: Today was election day in Afghanistan and all eyes were on voter turnout after repeated threats from the Taliban they would stop at nothing to disrupt the election. Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is in Afghanistan and reports from Kabul on what happened. Richard :

RICHARD ENGEL reporting: Good evening, Ann. There were 135 attacks across Afghanistan today, 26 people were killed, and all of the violence and threats from the Taliban scared away many voters. At Kabul 's Wazir Akbar Khan mosque, voters only trickled in. Taliban threats and attacks kept many away, especially in militant strongholds in eastern and southern Afghanistan . In Helmand , 11 rockets exploded near polling stations and militants attacked a police station outside Kabul . Nearby, some Afghans said they feared the Taliban would slit their throats if they voted. Low turnout in southern Afghanistan and Kabul could hurt the front-runner, President Hamid Karzai . They're his base of support. Karzai is relying on voters like Nebi , a 35-year-old day laborer. In his one room home in Kabul , he told us he's willing to defy the threats for his children .


ENGEL: `I'm voting for the peace and stability of my country ,' he said. But when Nebi arrived at the center, he was the only one voting. Turnout was high in the relatively safe north and west of Afghanistan . Here many back Karzai 's main rival, his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah . High turnout in the north improves Abdullah 's chances of forcing Karzai into a runoff election this fall. So as ballots were being counted tonight , it seems today's violence and intimidation didn't stop the vote, but may have inadvertently guaranteed another election. Both Karzai and Abdullah called today's election imperfect but nonetheless successful. Initial results could come as early as Saturday. Ann :