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Afghan security forces prepare for election announcement

An Afghan uniformed policeman mans an election day checkpoint along the highway between Kabul and Wardak province during the runoff presidential vote on June 14, 2014. Police officials are once again preparing for violence as the government is poised to announce the election results.

JOSH SMITH/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOSH SMITH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 17, 2014

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s disputed election process has dragged on for nearly 5½ months and police Col. Sangar Khil is tired of it.

“The whole nation has hated it,” he said, before sighing loudly and taking a sip of hot tea. “We are tired of the security situation and are looking forward to the election being resolved.”

Sitting across from Khil in the basement of the Nangarhar provincial police headquarters, U.S. Army Maj. Cullen Jones nods in agreement.

“We’re as excited as you are for this to be resolved,” he tells Khil.

With the government poised to officially announce the vote tally, however, Afghan and international security officials are preparing for another uptick in violence, both from insurgent groups bent on undermining the process, as well as from potentially disgruntled political factions unhappy with the results.

The drawn-out review of the election results, and continuing power-sharing negotiations between the two presidential candidates, has taxed the entire country, hurting business, driving insurgent attacks and sparking concerns over civil unrest. The campaigns of former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah say they expect a breakthrough in the negotiations as soon as this week. But amid allegations of wide-spread fraud, there have been growing concerns of unrest, if supporters of the losing candidate feel the U.N.-supervised audit of disputed ballots was unfair.

The Afghan national security forces faced a bloody summer of fighting insurgents as international troops withdrew. The election impasse added to the sense of uncertainty. Ministry of Interior officials say that across Afghanistan more than 1,500 policemen died and another 2,500 were injured in the past six months alone.

During the two rounds of voting, Afghan security forces were able to prevent major attacks, but they reported above-average violence around the country.

In Nangarhar, Khil said, he has coordinated the formation of a joint police quick-reaction force that will be ready to respond to any incidents in the region when the election results are released. Afghan National Army units have been placed in reserve, and police are also boosting the number of checkpoints around major targets like Jalalabad city.

Voters in Nangarhar have generally supported Ghani, who led after the second round of voting.

“This nation is tired of civil war,” Khil said. “But we are waiting to see what happens when they announce the results. God willing there will be peace.”

For police in restive Nangarhar and neighboring areas, it has been nonstop work. Top staff have not been allowed to take leave since before the first round of voting at the beginning of April.

“I was so busy during the election days that I did not have time to eat or drink,” said police 1st Lt. Shir Rachman, who leads a three-man explosive ordnance disposal team responsible for helping clear roadside bombs in much of the province. “I kept telling them, ‘I am only human.’ ”

As an adviser with the 101st Airborne Division, Jones said while election security efforts have been planned, led and executed by Afghan forces, international troops have given suggestions.

“We’ve encouraged them to look at all the different contingencies and have forces ready,” he said. Among those suggestions was to develop the quick-reaction force, a form of which the advisers are hoping to make permanent.

“The Afghans are navigating the messy process of democracy independently,” Jones said. “We’re here to focus on the small things that will boost their capabilities.”

smith.josh@stripes.com
Twitter: @joshjonsmith
 

Afghan police Col. Sangar Khil gestures while discussing plans to provide security during the anticipated announcement of Afghanistan's disputed presidential election results. Police officials are hoping for peace but say they are planning for threats from insurgents as well as disgruntled political factions. Khil spoke on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014.
JOSH SMITH/STARS AND STRIPES