U.S. troops focusing on security for Afghan elections
September 17, 2005
ARLINGTON, Va. — As Afghans head to the polls Sunday, U.S. troops are more focused on providing security for elections than capturing or killing enemy leaders, the general in charge of U.S. operations in southeast Afghanistan said Friday.
Via video feed from Afghanistan, Army Brig. Gen. James G. Champion told Pentagon reporters that the mission of U.S. forces is to support the Afghan election officials while disrupting any potential attacks on the upcoming elections.
Champion said these legislative elections will be much bigger than the Afghan presidential election last fall, with 5,800 candidates on the ballot.
He said Afghan authorities have had a year to strengthen security measures since last year’s elections, and that they will provide security at the nearly 6,000 polling stations.
“Coalition forces will be out in the field in support of the elections. We’re there for any kind of super-emergencies,” Champion said.
“But the actual security for the voting process will be handled by the government of Afghanistan.”
Champion said terrorists could launch bomb attacks to disrupt the elections, but he does not expect the type of coordinated terrorist attacks seen in Iraq.
Despite the change in focus on election security, the hunt for Osama bin Laden has not been put on the back burner, Champion said.
“We are absolutely going to look for Osama bin Laden, he is clearly on our minds, but I am speaking from the perspective right now concerning the elections here,” Champion said.
But Champion acknowledged Friday that more than four years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, he has no idea where bin Laden is hiding.
Last week, a spokesman for operational headquarters in Afghanistan told Stars and Stripes that specific details on the hunt for bin Laden could not be released because the search is an ongoing operation.
“No one should mistake the fact that there is a concentrated, focused effort on the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar every single day here in Afghanistan,” wrote Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara in an e-mail.
“We have an element that works this 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We will continue to do that until we find him.”
Asked what the hardest part of finding bin Laden is, O’Hara replied, “Knowing where he is hiding.”
Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said Friday that al Qaida is more than just one man and U.S. forces have significantly damaged the terrorist group since 2001.
“We’re going to catch Osama bin Laden when we catch him, or we’ll kill him when we kill him.”