WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2010 — Coalition forces are supporting Afghan forces’ efforts to bolster security in the days preceding parliamentary elections, and they stand ready to assist with security efforts when the voting gets under way Sept. 18, a U.S. commander in Afghanistan said today.
“[The International Security Assistance Force] will be there to support and ensure that a fair and transparent election occurs and this is a strong step forward for the people of Afghanistan,” Army Col. James H. Johnson, commander of Task Force Bayonet and the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, told Pentagon reporters via a video teleconference from Afghanistan.
Johnson was accompanied at the briefing by Gov. Mohammad Halim of Afghanistan’s Wardak province, and Col. Aref Alzaben of the Jordanian army, commander of Task Force Nashmi. As Task Force Bayonet commander, Johnson oversees 4,900 personnel in eastern Afghanistan’s Logar and Wardak provinces.
In Wardak, Afghan National Police will guard 399 polling sites, supported by coalition forces, as the Afghan-led elections get under way, Fadai said.
Of the hundreds of polling sites across Wardak and Logar provinces, only 10 sites will remain closed Sept. 18, Johnson said. But he added that the closure is more a result of logistics and voter registration numbers than security concerns.
“We’ve made every effort possible to ensure the voting base knows where their polling sites are, and the security plan is already in motion,” he said.
An important effort has taken place during the rehearsal and planning stages, Johnson said. Following rehearsals, Afghan security leaders have appeared on 13 radio stations scattered across Logar and Wardak provinces to inform the public about actions security and governance leaders are taking to ensure security.
This effort ensures that the people will have confidence that they can move to their polling sites and participate in the parliamentary elections as they desire, Johnson said. The elections are a sign of progress for the Afghan people, the governor noted, with the Afghans electing their members and their representatives instead of “bullets to ballots.” Johnson also touched on the security condition in Wardak. The aim is to expand the security and prosperity that exists in the Afghan capital of Kabul and move it through the districts from north to south, he said, with a focus on Highway 1, which runs from Kabul to Kandahar and is a major thoroughfare for commerce.
“We do still have threats along that highway,” he acknowledged, including Taliban forces and private security companies that are engaged by local people.
Johnson praised the efforts of Wardak’s governor, who banned several companies and also took measures to control movement on the highway. This has improved security and is enabling prosperity to move south, he said.
Forces are making progress daily, the colonel said. However, he added, “as we make greater progress, the enemy will continue to make greater effort to disrupt that security.” Afghan army and police capacity is growing daily, and the forces are gaining the trust of the Afghan people, the governor added. Some security issues do exist, he added, and will take time to resolve.
“We can’t fix the problems of 30 years, or more than that, in seven or eight years,” he said. “We have to be patient. We are making progress.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)