With only 11 days remaining before the people of Afghanistan go to the polls to elect a president for the first time in their history, the senior United Nations peacekeeping official today warned there may be many violent incidents around the country in the run-up as groups try to disrupt the electoral process.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York that security forces have conducted special training exercises in recent days to test how they would respond to an attack.
Speaking after his briefing to the Security Council, Mr. Guéhenno said a combination of Afghan police, Afghan national army troops, members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and troops participating in the United States-led operation in the country are being stationed at key sites to protect polling sites and counting centres.
"We're very much aware that this is a tough environment. We know that it's not going to be an incident-free election," he said, adding that a dozen electoral workers have already been killed in attacks by groups opposed to the process.
Despite the threats, Mr. Guéhenno voiced hope for a high turnout. "The commitment of so many Afghans to [the electoral] process I think is the best reassurance that we can have."
Earlier, while briefing the Council, Mr. Guéhenno said tribal and community leaders were being used across the country, especially in the eastern, southeastern and southern provinces, to help determine local security arrangements for the elections.
These leaders were also used during Afghanistan's voter registration process earlier this year, and have been contacted because the security forces are thinly spread out across the country, Mr. Guéhenno told the Council.
More than 10 million Afghans, including at least 4 million women, have registered to vote in elections on 9 October to choose a president. National and local parliamentary polls are scheduled for next year.
Most of the logistical preparations have been completed, Mr. Guéhenno said, with the recruitment of 125,000 staff to run the polling centres nearly finished. All ballot boxes and printed materials have arrived in Afghanistan and are being transported from the capital, Kabul, to provincial offices for safekeeping until just before 9 October.
Mr. Guéhenno also said he was encouraged that the process of disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating ex-combatants has gathered speed in recent weeks, with more than 2,000 men disarming in the past 10 days alone. Almost half of all the estimated stock of operable and reparable heavy weapons in Afghanistan have now been handed in.
Earlier today, the Council also adopted its annual report to the General Assembly.