Taliban steps up election terror campaign

Author: By Kim Sengupta in Helmand

The suicide truck attack on one of the main roads from Kabul leading east to
Jalalabad, near a British military base, also injured 52 people, at least a
dozen of them seriously. A Nato spokesman said a number of its soldiers “were
killed and injured in the blast”. Further details would be released
after next of kin had been informed, he said.

Two Afghan civilians working for the UN were among the dead and another was
wounded. The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply
distressed” by the news. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the
bombing and declared that further attacks would soon follow.

The attack set a row of vehicles on fire and damaged nearby buildings. British
troops, guarding the site of the attack, had to collect remains of victims
from the roofs of nearby buildings. Local people searched through the rubble
for survivors who were ferried to hospitals in private cars.

There were no injuries in the mortar attack aimed at the residence of the
President Hamid Karzai. Hamid Elmi, a presidential spokesman, said the
rounds had struck “around the compound” but had no further
details.

A US military spokeswoman, Elizabeth Mathias, had no details of damage or
casualties from the attack on the presidential compound. Neither Mr Karzai
nor anyone else was wounded in the attack, said Mr Elmi. He said the rounds
probably hit “somewhere around the compound”, but he had no
further details.

In separate attacks, two American soldiers were killed and three others were
wounded by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan. The deaths brought to 26
the number of US service members killed in the conflict in the past 30 days.
Meanwhile, a suicide attack killed three Afghan soldiers and two civilians
in Uruzgan in the south of the country. In Jowzjan province in the north, an
election candidate was shot dead and three poll workers killed in Badakshan
when the car they were travelling in hit a roadside bomb.


Afghan elections

Mr Karzai is still favourite to win the country’s second presidential election
since the 2001 US-led invasion although he is facing a stiff challenge from
other leading candidates.

He said Afghans would not be deterred by these "barbaric acts”. He
has vowed to restore peace and security but his government is clearly so
rattled by the bloodshed that it has ordered a news blackout on media
reporting of attacks while voting is underway tomorrow. Separate decrees
from the interior ministry and the foreign ministry warned national and
international news media to stay away from the scenes of attacks and to
refrain from airing broadcasts about violence because they risked
frightening people into staying away from the polls.

“We have taken this decision in the national interest of Afghanistan in
order to encourage people and raise their morale to come out and vote,”
said a spokesman, Siamak Herawi.

Insurgents have vowed to disrupt the election and there were continuing
reports of Taliban warnings to voters to stay at home tomorrow. Western
governments believe a strong turnout is essential to give the outcome
legitimacy but the Islamist movement has threatened to blow up polling
stations to sabotage what it calls “a foreign plot against the country”.

Despite the absence of any let-up in insurgent activity, Nato officially
announced yesterday that its forces would stop military operations on
election day and would undertake missions only if they were “deemed
necessary to protect the population”. However, operations were still
continuing in Helmand and Kandahar yesterday by British and American troops
to “disrupt Taliban attempts to disrupt the elections”.

Meanwhile, the militant network run by the Taliban in neighbouring Pakistan
was dealt a blow with the arrest of a spokesman, Mualvi Omar. Omar
reportedly told interrogators that the movement’s chief, Baitullah Mehsud,
was killed on 5 August. Reports of Mehsud’s death had previously been
denied.

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