Prez challenger blasts govt security

KABUL: President Hamid Karzai's top challenger charged Saturday that the government was failing to establish safe conditions for the Aug. 20 election, but pledged that his supporters would not protest violently if he lost.

Abdullah Abdullah said Karzai's administration, which is supposed to have primary responsibility for election security, was not protecting campaign workers.

Interior Ministry officials say there have been at least 20 attacks against politicians or their aides in recent weeks.

Gunmen killed two workers from Abdullah's campaign last month in two separate attacks, while the convoy of one of Karzai's vice presidential running mates, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, came under fire in northern Afghanistan late last month, wounding a cameraman working for the campaign.

"Unfortunately the Afghan government has failed at providing security during the campaign period," Abdullah told reporters. "There have not been enough security measures taken by the government for the election."

A Karzai spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Abdullah has mounted a strong challenge to Karzai, though most observers still expect Karzai to win.

In an interview to be aired Sunday on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. would work with "whomever the people of Afghanistan select" as president but would be "very specific about what we need to see coming" from the next government.

Clinton said the main U.S. demand would be "helping us expedite the training of an Afghan national army that will help our forces hold ground and then take over that responsibility."

She said the U.S. would be "actively impartial" in the election but added that "it has surprised people that this has turned into a real election."

"I think the incumbent, obviously as incumbents do, has an advantage," she said, referring to Karzai. "But very vigorous campaigns are being run by several contestants. So we're just going to do everything we can to make sure the election is fair."

Casualties among Western troops, Afghan security forces and civilians have all been rising ahead of the election. Additional U.S. and British forces are trying to take back control of territory in the south from Taliban insurgents who have pledged to disrupt the vote.

The NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan said Saturday that it was investigating reports that a mortar round that fell short of its target Friday killed two civilians in the southern province of Uruzgan.

In neighboring Ghazni province, two AH-64 Apache helicopters responded to gunfire from insurgents but wounded five Afghan police officers, NATO said. The incident was also under investigation.