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ISAF’s support to Afghan election

The ability to hold free and fair elections is a crucial milestone in the development of Afghanistan’s emerging democracy. To help create the conditions for the proper conduct of such elections, ISAF is assisting the Afghan authorities and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in providing security and stability.

The first elections after the fall of the Taliban were held in 2004 (Presidential) and 2005 (National Assembly and Provincial Council). Upon request from the then interim President, Hamid Karzai, ISAF supported the electoral process by assisting the ANSF in its area of operations at that time.

In the run up to the 20 August 2009 and 2010 elections, ISAF assisted the ANSF in ensuring a safe environment for the voter registration update process throughout the entire country.

Since 2004, ISAF forces have assumed third line of security for the elections, the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan National Army (ANA) assuming respectively the first and second line of security. In other words, the ANP has provided security at polling sites, with the ANA securing the areas around sites, and ISAF being available to support and assist the ANA and ANP if required.

2004 Presidential Elections

The landmark Presidential elections on 9 October 2004 were conducted under the joint responsibility of the United Nations and the Government of Afghanistan, in accordance with the Bonn process.

On 23 July 2004, the North Atlantic Council approved detailed military advice on ISAF support for the presidential election. The plan was configured to provide additional forces at two levels in theatre.

A first level was located at the NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) to reflect the local security situation. A second level in theatre consisted of one battalion provided by Spain and one battalion provided by Italy, with supporting elements.

The Spanish battalion provided the ISAF Quick Reaction Force and the Italian battalion provided the in-theatre Operational Reserve Force.

These additional forces deployed to Afghanistan in September 2004 and remained for about 8 weeks, covering the election period.

2005 Parliamentarian and Provincial Elections

Following the Presidential elections, the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) and the provincial councils were elected on 18 September 2005. NATO provided a similar package of support to the Afghan authorities for these elections, supporting the ANSF in ensuring secure environment in its area of operations then expanded to the West.

As during the Presidential elections, the primary responsibility for organising and carrying out the vote rested with the Afghan Government and United Nations staffed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB). By the same token, while ISAF assisted, the Afghan authorities retained primary responsibility for security throughout the election process.

Over 2,000 additional ISAF troops were deployed to Afghanistan as Election Support Forces (ESF), which at the time brought the total number of NATO-led forces in the country to over 11,000.

In practice, ESF forces were split into Land and Air components, with a reserve maintained outside the country, which gave ISAF maximum flexibility in its support to the elections.

Extra forces also stood ready to assist the Government forces in responding to any unforeseen situations in order to enable an environment conducive to the successful conduct of the elections.

In 2004, ESF were provided by 10 countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United States. Their deployment was completed on 31 August 2005.

2009 and 2010 Elections

As opposed to the previous round of elections, the 20 August 2009 (Presidential and Provincial council) and 2010 (National Assembly) elections will be the first held under the sole responsibility of the Afghan Authorities since the fall of the Taliban.

The international community is providing technical assistance and financial support which are both coordinated by UNAMA, through the UNDP-ELECT (Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow), a multi-donor programme working throughout the country.

Security for the elections will be provided first and foremost by the Afghan National Security Forces, ISAF providing once more third line support.

The Alliance will generate temporary additional troops to be deployed in time prior to the elections. Accordingly, an ISAF Troop Contributing Nations force generation process has started in January 2009.

Conditions for elections have been set, among other things, by successful voter registration under the leadership of the Independent Election Commission (IEC). The IEC has registered almost 4.4 million new voters, in addition to the more than 12.5 million registered in 2004 and 2005. Security was provided principally by the ANP, with support from the ANA, while ISAF’s role was mainly logistical support.