The NATO-led force in Afghanistan said on Tuesday it will halt offensive operations during this week’s presidential election, and the country’s fragile security was underscored when two mortar rounds struck near the presidential palace in Kabul.
The military alliance’s decision follows a similar order to Afghan forces by President Hamid Karzai, who has called for an election-day truce.
Millions of Afghans are expected to vote Thursday for president and provincial councils amid threats from the Taliban that they will disrupt the poll. U.S., NATO and Afghan forces will be stationed around the country to help protect the vote, but will not be carrying out offensive operations.
“In support of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) who lead the security efforts during the electoral process, only those operations that are deemed necessary to protect the population will be conducted on that day,” the NATO-led force said in a statement.
Two mortar rounds, meanwhile, hit early Tuesday near the presidential palace in Kabul, the U.S. military said.
U.S. spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias had no details of damage or casualties from the attack. Afghan officials declined to comment.
The incident follows Monday’s insurgent attacks that killed a U.S. service member and an American civilian working for the military. The military death brought to 22 the number of U.S. troops killed in August.
Thousands of U.S. Marines are pushing ahead with their largest-ever operation in Afghanistan as they try to secure parts of southern Helmand province, a major Taliban stronghold. A number of insurgent groups also operate in eastern Afghanistan, a mountainous area that borders Pakistan.
Attacks in Afghanistan have risen steadily the last three years. In a speech Monday in Phoenix, President Barack Obama spoke of fierce fighting against Taliban and other insurgents leading up to the elections.
He told a veterans group that U.S. troops are working to secure polling places so that the elections can go forward and Afghans can choose their own future.
Mr. Obama said peace in Afghanistan “will not be quick” and “will not be easy.”
He said the United States still has a deep interest in the long-term outcome.
“This is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defence of our people,” Mr. Obama said.
But a powerful Afghan insurgent leader said Afghans can decide their fate “without any trusteeship.”
“America has to realize that it will not achieve victory in its war in Afghanistan through increasing the number of its soldiers in this country or through the sham elections,” Gulbuddin Hekmatyar told the al-Jazeera news network in a Sunday evening interview.
Hekmatyar was a favoured “freedom fighter” in the 1980s when the U.S. backed rebel groups trying to push the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. Now, his militants are committed to fighting international and U.S. troops in Afghanistan.