NPR logo Militant Attacks Rattle Afghanistan On Eve Of Vote


Militant Attacks Rattle Afghanistan On Eve Of Vote

An Afghan policeman stands guard Wednesday in the downtown market area in the capital city of Kabul. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images hide caption

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Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

An Afghan policeman stands guard Wednesday in the downtown market area in the capital city of Kabul.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Six American troops were killed in Afghanistan, the U.S. military announced Wednesday, and six election workers died in attacks amid growing fears on the eve of the presidential election that insurgents would mar the vote.

Two troops were killed in gunfire in the south on Wednesday, the U.S. military said, while a third was killed in an unspecified hostile attack. The U.S. also said a roadside bomb Tuesday in the south killed two servicemembers, while another died of noncombat-related injuries. No other details were released.

Police also engaged in a gun battle with Taliban militants at a bank in the heart of Afghanistan's capital. The firefight was the third major attack in Kabul in less than a week, and many Afghans said it has shaken their nerve about getting out to vote.

Election officials have said they are confident that there will be enough security on voting day. But the country's own Interior Ministry appeared to counter that optimism, saying at least one-third of Afghanistan was still at high risk of attack by the Taliban.

In Wednesday's shootout, three armed militants took over a branch of the Pashtani Bank in a section of Kabul's old city that still lies in ruins from the 1990s civil war. Police surrounded the building, exchanging gunfire with the attackers and killing them.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said 20 armed suicide attackers wearing explosive vests had entered Kabul and that five of them battled police. The claim could not be confirmed, but the Taliban have unleashed several attacks in recent months involving teams of insurgents targeting government or high-profile sites.

The rash of violence has prompted the Afghan government to demand that broadcast media outlets not air news of any election day attacks so as not to discourage turnout. Afghan journalists on Wednesday rejected the Foreign Ministry ultimatum, accusing the government of censorship.

"We will not obey this order. We are going to continue with our normal reporting and broadcasting of news," said Rahimullah Samander, head of the Independent Journalist Association of Afghanistan.

The three-man assault in Kabul came a day after two insurgent attacks in the capital, including rockets fired at the presidential palace. It also follows a suicide car bomb explosion in front of NATO's Kabul headquarters Saturday that killed seven.

The latest attacks were an ominous sign that the Taliban and their militant allies are determined to disrupt Thursday's election.

President Hamid Karzai faces some three dozen presidential candidates, including his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. The incumbent leader is favored to win but will face an October runoff if he doesn't garner more than 50 percent of the vote.

Polls show Karzai's support at around 45 percent, followed by Abdullah with about 25 percent.

From NPR and wire reports