Voting today will test the legitimacy of the government and the credibility of the international counterinsurgency strategy.
New NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussmen called for more European troops as violence in once-calm west and north complicate preparations for Aug. 20 elections.
Top contenders Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are campaigning outside their traditional bases and attacking the incumbent.
As Afghan insurgents exploit popular anger at civilian deaths, the US is hitting back with its own message.
In The Hague this week, Iranian officials offered to cooperate with the US. Iran has pursued an ambitious redevelopment effort in Afghanistan since 2001.
Policewomen are promoting better community relations, but face discrimination in their own career advancement.
Western forces target the Taliban, but for many Afghans the biggest threat comes from criminals and complicitous police.
The country's first dairy cooperative has helped farmers more than double their incomes.