March 30, 2014 in Nation/World

Taliban attacks threaten safety of Afghan elections

Amir Shah Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

An Afghan policeman rides on top of his armored vehicle Saturday as he rushes to the scene of the attack on the main election commission’s headquarters.
(Full-size photo)

Crowded race

Afghans will begin choosing a successor to President Hamid Karzai on April 5. Karzai is constitutionally barred from a third term. With three strong contenders out of nine candidates overall, nobody is expected to get the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban militants attacked the main Afghan election commission’s headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, the latest in a series of audacious assaults threatening to scare voters away just a week before Afghans go to the polls.

It was the third attack in Kabul in five days claimed by the Taliban. The Islamic militant movement has promised a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 elections to choose the country’s next president and provincial council members.

The five attackers disguised themselves as women, wearing the all-encompassing burqa to sneak unnoticed into a building that overlooked the heavily fortified Independent Election Commission’s headquarters on the eastern edge of the capital, officials said.

They never breached the compound – which is walled off and guarded by a series of watchtowers and checkpoints – but two warehouses were set on fire as the attackers barraged the complex with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine-gun fire.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan confirmed that a neighboring base it uses was hit by small-arms fire too. It said all U.N. staff members were accounted for and safe.

Afghan police killed all five militants after a four-hour standoff, deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi said. Two policemen were wounded in the firefight after security forces surrounded the building.

None of the dozens of employees and other people who had been hiding inside the election commission headquarters was injured, Salangi said.

It was the second attack on electoral offices this week. Gunmen Tuesday killed four people in an assault on another IEC office in Kabul on Tuesday. A foreign guest house came under attack Friday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for all three assaults.

While the recent attacks have resulted in relatively few casualties, they have had a big psychological impact and raised concerns about the Afghan security forces’ abilities as most international forces withdraw by the end of this year.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, offered a statement reassuring Afghans it was ready for voting day. It vowed that the elections “will be held in a secure environment, far from any threat.”

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