KABUL, Afghanistan—Officials in Afghanistan deployed more than 100,000 troops and police on Sept. 26 to guard polling stations for a presidential election that the Taliban has threatened to disrupt with suicide bombings and rocket attacks.
Every election in the past decade has been marred by violence in Afghanistan, where Taliban Islamic terrorists are fighting U.S.-backed government forces and demand the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
Violence in the Sept. 28 election, in which President Ashraf Ghani is widely expected to win a second five-year term, could deepen political instability, embolden the Taliban, and set back efforts to get stalled peace talks back on track.
Of the 18 candidates, only Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who as chief executive of a unity government is effectively prime minister, have a realistic chance of victory.
The winner will be key to an effort to forge peace with the Taliban and reset talks between the insurgents and the United States, which were called off earlier this month.
Security will be tight at the more than 29,500 polling stations set up in schools, mosques, hospital compounds, and district centers. Two senior security officials in Kabul put the number of security forces deployed at more than 100,000.
Western security officials and diplomats in Kabul said U.S. forces would also provide air support for Afghan forces—to thwart insurgent attacks and ensure safe retrieval of ballot boxes from the stations after the election.
In large swaths of the country, people won’t have the choice to vote as the Taliban and ISIS terrorists are in control there. About 1,500 polling stations will be closed because security forces can’t protect them.
“The entire security apparatus is on high alert. Operations to neutralize, arrest and disrupt insurgent attacks are being conducted ahead of the elections,” said Abdul Moqim Abdulrahimzai, director-general of operations and planning at the Interior Ministry in Kabul.
Abdulrahimzai, who is overseeing the deployment of forces, said military vehicles and soldiers were seen moving toward volatile parts of the country, which has seen an increase in attacks in recent months.
“Our job is to defend the national process, the democratically held elections and civilians,” he said.
Threat to Civilians
Anyone who votes will have their finger marked with indelible ink to prevent them from casting multiple ballots. That can make it risky for voters who return to areas controlled by the Taliban.
In past elections, the Taliban have beaten or cut off the fingers of some voters.
There have already been attacks on a campaign rally and one of the vice-presidential candidates. Last week, Taliban attackers killed almost 50 people in separate suicide bombings, one of which targeted an election rally for Ghani.
The Taliban controls more of Afghanistan than at any time since it was toppled in 2001 and the U.S.-backed government’s security forces are struggling to contain the terrorists.
The Taliban warned teachers, students, and other education workers this month to avoid the presidential vote or risk dying in attacks. More than two-thirds of polling stations will be in schools.
On Sept. 26, the Taliban said all major and minor roads would be closed by Mujahideen (Taliban terrorists) on election day. If casualties arise, it said, all responsibility will lie with “the participants of this American process themselves.”
“We ask fellow countrymen to refrain from venturing out of their homes on this day so that, may Allah forbid, no one is harmed,” the Taliban said in a statement.
The United Nations says almost 4,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of the year.
By Hamid Shalizi and Rupam Jain