Violence in Afghanistan on eve of election

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The Independent Online

The attempted destruction of Gereshk dam in Helmand province came amid a wave of violence on the eve of SundayÕs historic parliamentary elections. The insurgents were seized as they were laying explosives at the dam, above the town of Gereshk. If it had burst the casualties could have been considerable.

A spokesman for the Afghan Defence Ministry denied earlier reports that the dam targeted was the much larger 300m high Kajaki dam some 50 miles north, which could have killed tens of thousands if it had burst.

"A joint US-Afghan patrol was in the Gereshk area when they came across a group of suspected Taliban trying to lay an explosive device near the Gereshk dam," said General Mohammed Saher Azimi, spokesman for the Defence Ministry.

"There was an exchange of fire and 20 suspected Taliban were captured. We stopped this attack because a lot of people would have been killed. There would have been serious damage." Helmand, in Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan, has been a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency. A local candidate in todayÕs[Sunday] elections was dragged from his home by suspected Taliban on Friday and shot dead.

The Taliban have denounced the elections and there has been a surge of violence ahead of them. Police said the attempt to blow up the dam was one of four large attempted bombings that were prevented yesterday around the country.

Three police officers were killed in an insurgent attack on the outskirts of Kabul, the first successful attack so close to the capital for a long time. A district police chief and two officers were killed when their patrol was ambushed.

In a separate ambush on the road from Kabul to Kandahar, notorious for Taliban attacks, insurgents fired a rocket into a police car, setting it alight. The police officers inside managed to escape. Seven suspected Taliban were killed in an ensuing gun battle. The streets of Kandahar were deserted yesterday after police ordered all cars off the roads for fear of car bombings.

The attacks have underscored that todayÕs elections are being held against the backdrop of a worsening Taliban insurgency. The Taliban have said they will not target polling stations, but warned Afghans to stay away from military posts and American bases on election day.