Taliban Tries to Sow Chaos before Election

Afghan election worker
An Afghan election worker prepares ballots ahead of voting in national elections scheduled for Aug. 19, 2009.

No matter who wins the presidential election in Afghanistan tomorrow, the U.S. expects changes from the Afghan government - first and foremost, more help fighting the insurgents.

But as CBS News correspondent David Martin reports, the election has given the Taliban new incentive to throw the country into chaos.

With the election looming, the Taliban have increased their number of attacks from 32 a day to 48.

In Kabul, a suicide bomber tried to crash his car into a NATO convoy, killing seven Afghans and two U.N. workers. The Taliban can sow mayhem but a senior NATO officer insists 48 attacks can not shut down 6,500 polling places.

"Clearly, they do not have the capacity to intimidate and prevent 15 million afghan voters that have registered to vote for this election," said Brigadier Gen. Eric Tremblay, a NATO spokesman in Afghanistan.

(Read more about the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan ahead of the voting from CBS News correspondent Lara Logan.)

But Mandy Clarke, who is covering the election for CBS News in Kabul, says the Taliban can hold down voter turnout.

"What you have to remember about Afghanistan is that it is a vast country with a majority of the country living in remote rural areas, so even if the Taliban just block off one road, it can stop an entire village from reaching the polling station and that could have a significant impact on election day," she said.

Clarke says reduced turnout would probably hurt incumbent president Hamid Karzai the most in what has turned out to be a spirited campaign complete with debates.

Karzai is still expected to get the most votes although he may need a run off to defeat Abdullah Abdullah - a doctor who once served as the country's foreign minister.

"The United States I think accepts the fact that President Karzai is likely to win, but it would like to see a very different President Karzai over the next four years than they've had for the last few years," said John Nagl of the Center for New American Security.

Nagl says the fact this has turned into a real horse race could serve as a wake up call to Karzai.

"This is a good forcing function to put more coercive pressure on president Karzai, on his government to root out some corruption and be more responsive to his people," Nagl said.

That's what the U.S. wants to see come out of this election - a better Afghan government.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.