NAPLES, Italy — All polling stations in Afghanistan have been inspected by Afghan security and NATO forces ahead of Thursday’s election, and 90 percent or more of the 7,000 stations will be open, according to NATO’s new commander in Europe.

Adm. James Stavridis described Thursday’s vote, which will include close to 40 presidential candidates and more than 3,000 provincial candidates, as "a critically important election" that will be "open to the Afghan people."

That outlook is optimistic in light of recent concerns over violence expressed by the U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide.

"Yes, of course I am concerned that security will affect the turnout on the voting day. There is no doubt about that," Eide said during an Aug. 9 news conference in Kabul.

"It is, of course, sad that we have conflict ongoing in the country which will not allow all Afghan voters to come to the polling stations … to give their vote and have their say what the future of Afghanistan should be."

Afghanistan’s future presents a challenge and an indefinite commitment for NATO forces.

One prediction, made by Britain’s army chief Gen. David Richards last week, was for a NATO troop presence in Afghanistan for "30 to 40 years."

Though Stavridis wouldn’t comment on Richards’ prediction, he described the NATO commitment as "long-term," reciting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s comments to Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week in Afghanistan: "We’ll be here as long as it takes."

The timeline and troop commitment are both indefinite. A war assessment is due at the end of the month from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commanding U.S. general in Afghanistan.

Though the election could see a change in government, Stavridis said the key to success lies in training the Afghan security forces, continued support for building infrastructure and convincing the Afghan people their government is working to bring security and prosperity to the country.

"Balancing the security focus with the work on the civilian side is critical," Stavridis said. "Security will not be delivered from the barrel of a gun in Afghanistan."

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