Monday, August 30

Life continues to be very busy. I expect it to get busier leading up to the Afghan presidential elections on 9 October. If a run-off is necessary it will carry on for another month after that. Then over the winter things should calm down. The bad guys like to hibernate during the snowy cold winter. There are 17 candidates. If the winner fails to get more than 50% of the vote, a run-off will be held between the two top candidates.

Yesterday was a particularly interesting day. I'm on some special working groups dealing with elections security. Yesterday we had our first training exercise in preparation for the elections. We set up a small operations center on the U.N. compound, which is staffed by various shops in the coalition, the International Security Assistance Force, The Afghan Ministry of the Interior, Afghan Ministry of Defense, the United Nations Assistance Mission Afghanistan, and the Joint Electoral Management Body.

In the exercise we took calls from 'the field' about various incidents that may or may not affect public perceptions of the elections. We then assimilate the information, determine what needs to be done physically and informationally to manage the situation and make sure the public and media don't take the incident out of context or report any inaccuracies. For this election to be successful, the UN and JEMB need to determine them to be legitimate, but also the media and people here need to believe the elections were legitimate. They must believe their vote counted, that it was not currupt, and that everyone had an opportunity to vote. My working group is of course working on the information aspect of it-- make sure the people and the world view the elections as legitimate. If some polling stations are bombed, some people won't get to vote. That could affect the election or more likely people's perceptions of the elections success. We'll put out information about the incident, it's impact, the government's reactions, etc., to the press. We'll have a few more exercises like this and then man the op center 7-10 days in advance of the elections.
In the early evening yesterday, I heard a big boom and the large window behind me shook and rattled. I new right away something bad happened. This was different than the rocket attacks we've had, however. It was 5:45 p.m., not 9-11 p.m. when the rocket attacks usually happen. It was also much louder and more powerful of an explosion. I suspected it was a car bomb.

Most people went to their nearest shelter. The Quick Reaction Force did their job speeding out the gate to the site of the bombing, and the Force Protection guys scrambled to plus-up security on our perimeter. I understand the bomb went off just over 100 meters away in front of a headquarters for an organization that trains the Afghan Police. I think seven people died. The rocket attacks hardly ever inflict any damage, so this was very sobering to learn people died-- and some were American contractors. Our QRF brought a wounded American and a wounded Afghan to our aid station on our compound, where they were treated and then brought to a hospital later.

This was something very new and different for Afghanistan and Kabul. I believe the groups working against a democratic Afghanistan are getting more desperate to accomplish their goal. From what I can tell, Afghans will bear through some violence in order to realize their dreams for freedom and to put 25 years of war behind them.

Needless to say, we had a capacity crowd at our press conference this morning. The media are overwhelmingly supportive of the international effort here, so we don't get quite the hostile questions and negativity that the press has in Iraq. Lucky us, I guess!

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