Afghan forces backed by 9,000 NATO troops are poised to provide security as national elections approach, but a spectacular offensive by anti-government rebels cannot be ruled out, the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan said Friday.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Al-Qaida, the Taliban and allied forces are poised to try to derail the Oct. 9 presidential elections and have been cooperating with each other.
“I expect that as we go toward the election and on election day, they will try to disrupt,” he said. “The area where they are going to be most active is along the border with Pakistan.”
Khalilzad, who is here for consultations, said they also may carry out “spectacular attacks” similar to the offensive launched by North Vietnam in early 1968 against American forces. That offensive started a process that eventually led to negotiations for the American withdrawal from Vietnam.
Khalilzad said the Afghan National Army now has 13,500 soldiers who are backed by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. ISAF has been expanded from 6,500 troops to 9,000 recently to help with election security.
“The Afghan government, ISAF, they are all ready for it,” the envoy said, alluding to election-related violence. He also said that hundreds of Americans troops have been sent to Afghanistan in recent days for election security duty.
The large majority of U.S. forces in Afghanistan are deployed along the border with Pakistan attempting to hunt down al-Qaida and Taliban forces.
Khalilzad said the insurgents are determined to see the process fail because the country’s future will be defined by how the election is carried out.
He noted that in the several thousand year history of Afghanistan, the Oct. 9 balloting will be the country’s first on a national scale.
The dangers were highlighted on Thursday when militia forces fired a rocket at an American helicopter carrying President Hamid Karzai to celebrate a school opening in a city south of Kabul.
The rocket missed but Karzai canceled the event on the recommendation of his security advisers.
Presidential and parliamentary elections were to have been held in June but were postponed because of security problems. The parliamentary balloting was rescheduled for next April.