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Taliban intimidation intensifies prior to election

It remains to be seen how effective the Taliban's scare tactics will be in keeping voters from the polls Thursday.

DARVESHAN, Afghanistan — The Taliban is ratcheting up its intense intimidation campaign in southern Afghanistan in a bid to derail national elections, according to military intelligence.

The impact of the scare tactics is expected to be most potent among rural voters outside of the relatively secured “Snake’s Head” region here — so named because of the shape on the map of the Garmsir district's center — thereby virtually cutting off rural voters from a chance at weighing in at polls.

Consensus among U.S. and Afghan security forces is that security could only be provided to voters in the Snake’s Head where they have the most concerted presence, according to Capt. Micah Caskey, who heads a civil affairs team in this region. “Our goal is to provide a safe and secure polling location for those Afghans who do decide to exercise their right to vote,” Caskey said. “Right now in our assessment, we can only provide security or ensure security inside that patrol base line.”

The rise in intimidation comes alongside the uptick in fighting in this region spurred by the launch of a major Marine offensive in early July aimed at uprooting Taliban fighters. The region has historically not been persistently patrolled by International Security Assistance Forces, which has given Taliban fighters an advantage, Col. George Amland, deputy commander of the Camp Lejeune, NC-based 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said recently.

Tomorrow’s national election has prompted a spike in the Taliban’s traditional campaign to control locals, according to one Marine officer. “We have seen not only an increase in intimidation reporting, but also their intent,” said Capt. Trevor Hunt, intelligence officer for 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines. Instead of fighting while conducting intimidation campaigns on the side, Marines are finding that the Taliban is currently more propaganda-focused in their operations. That said, attacks have remained at the same intensity in the week leading up to the election, he added.

As part of that, rural voters also potentially face the penalty of combat operations, as IED (improvised explosive device) attacks on U.S. and Afghan security forces consequently make it more dangerous for rural Afghans to travel to polling sites in the district center. The Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based unit has already seen 13 Marines killed since their arrival in June, almost all by IEDs.

“For the most part, if you’re not in a secure location, you’re probably going to stay home,” Hunt said. “They obviously don’t want people to go vote. If I lived in Garmsir and I knew there was a lot of IEDs out all over the place, I wouldn’t go outside either.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/afghanistan/090819/taliban-intimidation-campaign-elections