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In this 2010 file photo, election officials check out a guide book explaining the election process at the Shinkai district center in Zabul province, Afghanistan. Election books and posters circulating in the district feature plenty of illustrations to make it easier for illiterate local farmers to understand the process.
In this 2010 file photo, election officials check out a guide book explaining the election process at the Shinkai district center in Zabul province, Afghanistan. Election books and posters circulating in the district feature plenty of illustrations to make it easier for illiterate local farmers to understand the process. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

Nearly half of all polling stations in Afghanistan are unsafe, officials at the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan said Thursday.

The IEC has determined that 3,410 of the 6,845 polling stations face “notable” security concerns — 259 of which were marked as under militant control.

With elections in the country set to begin in April, the IEC is meeting this week to figure out how to combat those security concerns before the election, according to Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, chief electoral officer for the IEC.

“We are conducting an election in the middle of a war, and without security, it’s difficult for the IEC to do so,” Amarkhil said. “Everything else for this election has been prepared, so we are talking with the security organizations of Afghanistan to make sure no one is deprived of their election in the name of security.”

According to local news reports, a high number of tribal elders have called for the elections to be postponed until 2018, but Amarkhil says postponing the election “is just not an option.”

“This is a very important and historical election, and it needs to be on time,” he said. “Mainly we are working with elders right now, asking them to use their own influence to talk with people to help provide the security we need.”

U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan have long been a part of the mission to secure these areas, particularly in Helmand province, where, according to icasualties.org, U.S. troops have lost 937 soldiers in the fight against insurgents.

As U.S. and coalition troops continue to let the Afghan National Security Forces take the lead on such security missions, the election will certainly be an indicator as to whether the security forces have the capabilities to protect civilians as they attempt to elect new leaders and exercise their right to vote.

“We are still discussing this with the security organizations, but compared to the last election, the IEC has good relations with the Afghan people, and we are asking them to continue supporting us,” said Amarkhil.

Other provinces in Afghanistan that listed polling stations under militant control included Nuristan, Badakhshan, Faryab, Parwan, Sari Pul, Paktika and Kandahar, where 535 U.S. troops have died. Amarkhil said he’s relying heavily on ANSF to solve the security issues in those areas, but noted that those places were under “enemy control,” and “their presence was strong.”

Zubair Babakarhail contributed to this report.

pena.alex@stripes.comTwitter: @alexandermpena

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