How will NATO protect Afghan voters against rising violence?

Attacks are up 50 percent during the past 10 days. Coalition forces have set up a 'tiered' security plan at polling places.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Afghans survey destroyed vehicles at the scene of a suicide car bomb attack on a NATO convoy in the outskirts of Kabul, Tuesday. The bombing killed at least seven civilians and wounded 50 people, including several international troops, officials said.
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Insurgent attacks are up before the Afghan elections, but NATO officials in Kabul said Tuesday that they do not expect the threat of violence to stop the country from conducting a credible election Thursday.

NATO officials report about 48 attacks across the country per day, up from about 32 per day during the 10 days prior. Taliban and other insurgents have threatened to stage attacks at polling places and kill Afghans with an ink-stained finger – a sign that they voted. Tuesday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a large suicide bombing outside Kabul.

But NATO expressed confidence Tuesday in the security measures it has enacted. Coalition forces have created a "tiered" system for securing the polls, said Australian Brig. Gen. Damian Cantwell, the chief of the election task force for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. The Afghan National Police force will occupy the inner ring of responsibility nearest the polling sites. The Afghan Army will patrol the perimeter of polling sites, as well as the general vicinity. US and allied forces will position themselves close by so they can respond in an emergency.

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"Of course, we're never fully assured of what the enemy will do on the day," Cantwell told reporters at the Pentagon by video teleconference. "All we can do is to do our very best, working with our Afghan partners, to provide the very best possible security posture in support of the Afghan people to give them the confidence to get out and take part in their political future."

President Hamid Karzai remains the favorite in the election. But if violence in the south – Mr. Karzai's power base – prevents voters from coming to the polls, a runoff is possible. There are as many as 30 presidential candidates, and the winner must get more than 50 percent of the vote. More than 3,000 district council seats are also up for grabs.

Afghan Ambassador to the US Said Jawad said the election is a test of the "maturity" of the democratic and constitutional system in Afghanistan.

"Though security has been a concern for us all, the campaign and presidential debates so far have been extremely vibrant, women's participation as candidates and voters has increased, and the polls have shown that the resilient people of Afghanistan will go out and vote in large numbers," Mr. Jawad said in a statement released Tuesday.

But the credibility of the election is also at stake in a country at war where extremists control as much as 40 percent of the land, and where corruption is as commonplace as chicken and rice.

"No election can be perfect under these conditions, and the test of success has to be relative," wrote Tony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an analysis released Tuesday.

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