Afghanistan

By Vincent Bevins and agencies

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called for a doubling of Afghan security forces to 400,000 to allow them to take over for Western troops, according to Reuters. “We should develop the capacity of the Afghan national security forces, the army and the police, so they can take care of their own security,” he said.

In Germany, as Reuters also reports, the government today has been attempting to avoid a debate about pulling troops out of Afghanistan that has intensified after the violence of the elections there.

By Vincent Bevins and agencies

Counting has begun in Afghanistan amid further evidence that turnout was uneven and claims of fraud may need to be investigated.

Election officials have confirmed earlier reports that turnout was low, especially in the south, where incumbent Hamid Karzai’s support is stronger. AP reported that voting in Kandahar, the south’s largest city and the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace, appeared to be 40% lower than in 2004. Abdullah Abdullah, who is more popular with the Tajik communities in the North, may benefit enough from this imbalance to force a run-off.

Scattered violence and clear threats of violence closed at least 800 poll stations (12% of total) and kept many voters from those that were open.

The Guardian reported that Ashraf Ghani, another presidential candidate, acknowledged widespread claims of fraud and hoped they could be resolved through official channels.

Barring hold-ups, some preliminary results may be released as early as Saturday and the final results should be announced 17 September.

The return of Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious warlord, to Afghanistan only days ahead of the country’s presidential and provincial elections, was “appalling”, Richard Holbrooke, US President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said on Thursday.

Mr Holbrooke, who was visiting some of Kabul’s polling stations on election day, said he was “moved” by the sight of Afghans going to the polls to chose their leaders, defying threats of violence by Taliban militants.

“What we have seen is what you want to see,” Mr Holbrooke told the Financial Times. “Many predicted that these [elections] wouldn’t be held.”

Read the full story from James Lamont in Kabul here: US envoy hits out at Karzai deal

Follow the day’s events so far on the blog below.

By Vincent Bevins

The credible threat of violence from Afghan militants appears to have been effective in keeping many voters away from the polls. Various reports claim more than two-thirds of polling stations in Afghanistan appear empty when compared to the last presidential elections five years ago.

Correspondents and officials have indicated turnout is better in the more secure north of Afghanistan, where presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah has stronger support. A strong performance by Mr Abdullah would force a second round.

Violence has not been absent, however, with reports of suicide and mortar attacks in various locations throughout Afghanistan.

The supposedly indelible ink which has been used to mark the fingers of voters seems to be removable. Despite this, insurgents have made good on the promise to kill people marked with it in at least one case.

The opening of polling stations has been extended until 6pm local time.

Below are some of the day’s main updates so far.

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