- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2013

International coalition officials are expressing confidence that Afghanistan’s presidential elections will occur in April as scheduled and mark a peaceful transfer of power from President Hamid Karzai, who has held the office since December 2001.

“Our money is on that it’s happening on time in April,” Army Brig. Gen. Michael Howard, the coalition’s deputy chief of staff for future operations, said Friday from Kabul in a phone interview.

By that time, about 34,000 U.S. troops will be in the country — or half the number currently there — along with other coalition forces.

SEE ALSO: Afghanistan’s thanks for U.S. generosity: Karzai’s regime issues harsh exit levies

Gen. Howard said Afghan forces are taking charge for all but a “tiny, tiny number” of security operations, with the coalition taking the lead about 1 percent of the time.

He said there are currently 336,000 Afghan soldiers and police, adding that the security force is expected to grow to 344,000 sometime in the future.

Gen. Howard said the amount violence in Afghanistan three months into the current fighting season is about the same as last year.

But most of the violence now is occurring in rural areas where 20 percent of the population lives, he said. The most violence is occurring in areas where only 3 percent of the population lives.

“Kabul has had some attacks, which is discouraging, but so did Boston,” the general said. “A bad guy with the wherewithal can sneak into a city and blow up a bomb.”

Still, officials decided to move the election to sometime before the usual start of the Taliban fighting season to reduce violence, instead of during the season — as occurred with the 2009 vote.

“So the question for the Afghan security forces, will they be able to secure that election? And I think right now, it’s a little early to tell, but my sense is that the answer will, indeed, be yes,” Peter Lavoy, acting assistant defense secretary for Asia Pacific security affairs, told Pentagon reporters last week.

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