U.S. hopes Afghans will grasp ‘a piece of freedom’
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — In a land said to cherish customs but abhor rules, millions of Afghans are set to further establish a democratic government Sunday by voting in their parliamentary and provincial council elections.
And following the election, a “blitz” of one- to two-month civil-military projects will be conducted across the country to show Afghans the benefits of their government and to erode faith in the insurgency.
Sunday’s vote should be as secure as possible, thanks in part to a relentless U.S. military offensive aimed at eradicating insurgents.
“Afghans are going to vote in large numbers,” said Army Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, Combined Joint Task Force 76 spokesman. “We don’t see any show-stoppers right now.”
Afghanistan is now home to more than 30,000 foreign troops — 20,000 under the U.S.-led coalition and 11,000 NATO troops.
Army Brig. Gen. James G. Champion, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76, predicts a “very successful” election, according to a press release.
Champion noted that insurgent activity in recent weeks was less than what occurred during last year’s Afghan presidential election. U.S. and coalition forces are not anticipating a coordinated enemy attack during the election, Champion said in the release.
For Sunday’s election, coalition forces will provide a third ring of security around polling locations while the Afghan police and army take up the first and second rings of security, respectively.
“During the election, our focus will stay the same — kill, capture or reconcile enemy forces,” O’Hara said.
“After the election, we will maintain that focus, but also you will see a blitz of civil-military operations around our area of responsibility to show the benefits of the election and to convince more and more Afghans that there are alternatives to the enemy’s way of life.”
Sunday’s vote marks the next step toward democracy for a nation that has experienced armed conflict and hostile rule for a majority of the past 25 years.
Roughly 5,800 Afghan candidates are vying for a spot in either the 249-seat parliament or one of 34 provincial councils.
Sgt. Mohammad Dawood of the Afghan National Army will perform election security around a polling location at Shabaz Khill School near Sayat on Sunday.
“We will be driving around town, checking out everywhere,” Dawood said through a translator.
In October, Afghans participated in a presidential election that saw Hamid Karzai voted in as the nation’s first democratically elected leader.
The parliamentary and provincial council elections to take place Sunday were originally scheduled for May. Security concerns and “technical matters” caused the election to be postponed. Initially, the parliamentary vote and presidential election were scheduled to occur in June 2004.
The elections are the final step of the Bonn agreement. The agreement, a plan to establish Afghan government, was drafted by Afghan groups at a United Nations-organized gathering after the Taliban were removed from power in late 2001.
“President Karzai, along with all those elected, will offer a governing path for Afghanistan’s future,” O’Hara said.
One troop stationed at Bagram Air Field saw firsthand the impact the upcoming election is having on Afghans. Army Reserve Sgt. Jason Arnold of the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion of Abilene, Texas, said an Afghan told him he was excited and happy about the election.
“I told him that’s a piece of freedom to vote and be able to choose your leaders,” said Arnold, 22. “That’s a piece of freedom.”