- Associated Press - Sunday, September 5, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | The Taliban vowed Sunday to attack polling places in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, warning Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote.

Meanwhile, two coalition troops, one British and one from the Republic of Georgia, were killed in fighting in the turbulent south, while a political rival of President Hamid Karzai questioned his approach to pending talks with rebels who might be persuaded to abandon the insurgency.

The threat issued Sunday comes just under two weeks before the vote and follows the announcement of a final list of polling places to be opened around the country.

“It is only to the benefit of foreigners who want to maintain their existence in the country by holding such a process and we believe that the people will not get any benefit out of it,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“That’s why we announced to the local people that all Afghan people should boycott this election and they should not participate on the polling date,” Mr. Mujahid said.

The Taliban position is consistent with those it has taken in the past. The insurgents seek to topple the government in Kabul and drive foreign troops from the country, and have boycotted or sought to sabotage all aspects of the political process.

Taliban threats and intimidation drove down voter turnout in last year’s fraud-marred presidential election, especially in rural areas where security is harder to ensure, and many Afghans this time say they won’t vote for fear of attacks.

Election officials plan to open 5,897 voting sites, having discarded more than 900 locations because of security concerns. Last year, 6,167 voting centers nominally operated.

Voters will choose 249 members of the lower house of parliament from among more than 2,500 candidates, including dozens of women.

Afghanistan’s government and its foreign partners say they hope the elections will further consolidate the country’s shaky democracy and put it on a path toward long-term political stability, allowing the withdrawal of the roughly 140,000 NATO-led foreign troops in the country.

The two deaths Sunday bring to seven the number of foreign fighters who have fallen in Afghanistan this month, five of them Americans. The Ministry of Defense identified the British soldier as belonging to 1st Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and said he died in a blast in the Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand province during an operation against insurgents. His name has not been released.

Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Nodar Kharshiladze said a 28-year-old battalion commander was killed, and a 25 year-old corporal was wounded early Sunday in an unspecified location.

With the conflict entering its ninth year, Mr. Karzai is hoping talks with weary insurgents could help divide the Taliban between hard-core members unwilling to compromise and those who might consider abandoning the insurgency.

However, Abdullah Abdullah, who withdrew from last year’s presidential election, complained that the process was opaque and goals unclear.

“It is being discussed behind the doors and the people of Afghanistan, they are not aware of what they are up against,” Mr. Abdullah told reporters at a meeting in his Kabul home.