Suicide Bomb Kills 5 Near Kabul

KABUL (RPRN) 8/18/2009–Afghan officials say a suicide car bomb has exploded on a main road on the outskirts of the capital Kabul, killing at least five people, as violence intensifies ahead of Thursday’s presidential election. More than 20 other people were wounded in the attack Tuesday, including Afghan staffers of the Independent Election Commission who may have been traveling in U.N. vehicles.

Earlier Tuesday, at least one rocket struck near the presidential palace in Kabul. There were also reports of a rocket hitting the capital’s police headquarters.

And in southern Uruzgan province, another suicide bombing hit a polling station Tuesday, killing three army soldiers and two civilians. At least five other people were wounded, including two soldiers.

Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt Thursday’s presidential and provincial council elections and have been increasing attacks across the country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking re-election and appears to be in the lead in a crowded field of about 30 candidates.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan said Tuesday it will halt offensive operations during the balloting and only do what is necessary to protect the population. The decision follows the Afghan government’s call for an election day ceasefire.

Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that violence and other obstacles will keep Afghans from being able to exercise their right to vote. The New York-based group said it is particularly concerned about militant threats, irregular security forces at polling stations, unequal access of candidates to state media and obstacles facing women.

Presidential candidates held their last day of campaigning Monday.

It remains unclear whether any candidate will receive enough votes to avoid a runoff.  Observers are focused on whether Afghans will be able to carry out a credible election.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday reiterated U.S. impartiality in the presidential race.  She said Washington does not support or oppose any particular candidate, adding the U.S. is ready to work with whomever the Afghan people elect as their new leader for the next five years.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.