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Archive for Thursday, October 21, 2004

U.S. claims Taliban rift over failure to disrupt Afghanistan’s elections

October 21, 2004

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— Fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has fallen out with some of his lieutenants, who blame him for the rebels' failure to disrupt the landmark Afghan presidential election, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

Election officials, meanwhile, said U.S.-backed interim President Hamid Karzai could all but seal a victory today as vote counting proceeds from an Oct. 9 ballot that came off largely peacefully.

A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Scott Nelson, said intelligence reports from Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan indicated the Taliban's failure to mount major attacks during the election had demoralized the rebels.

"There's been serious disagreements between Mullah Omar and some of his lower commanders on the strategy for the follow-up after the election," Nelson said. "There's a lot of frustration with his lack of effectiveness in disrupting the election."

Omar, whose hardline Islamic regime harbored Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida followers, has been in hiding since a U.S.-led military campaign ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001. The rebels have mounted repeated attacks over the past year on government and coalition targets.

Nelson said intelligence indicated Omar was still involved in planning Taliban operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but he conceded the military didn't know in which of the two countries the one-eyed rebel leader was hiding.

The U.S. military, which has 18,000 soldiers hunting al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts in Afghanistan, has hailed the election as a body blow to the rebels because their threats to sabotage the vote proved hollow.

An estimated 8 million Afghans turned out to vote, and Karzai appears set to become the country's first directly leader after a quarter-century of conflict.

With half the ballots counted Wednesday, Karzai had 59.8 percent of the vote and held a 42-point lead over his nearest challenger, former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni.

Reginald Austin, chief technical adviser to the election's U.N. and Afghan organizers, said one more day of counting should all but ensure that Karzai emerges the winner.

"By Thursday, we should be able to make a sufficient determination," Austin told The Associated Press.

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