KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban suicide bomber struck a bus carrying Afghan military personnel in Kabul Wednesday, killing at least 11 people, officials said, as the militants step up their campaign of violence aimed at undermining the Western-backed government.
The bombing came as the country struggles through its first democratic transition of power, with electoral officials announcing Wednesday that the release of initial election results has been postponed until next week due to allegations of fraud.
The blast tore through the green bus blowing out the windows and leaving the interior spattered with blood. Afghan soldiers cordoned off the scene as the bus was lifted by a crane to be carried away. Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said eight members of the army were killed and 13 wounded in the blast. Three civilians also were killed, according to Kabul’s criminal investigation chief Gul Agha Hashim.
Army Gen. Kadamshah Shahim said the bomber was stopped before he could enter the bus, preventing a higher casualty toll. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack via spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
Preliminary results from a June 14 runoff vote between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai had been due on Wednesday. But the Independent Election Commission said they were being postponed until Monday so ballots from 1,930 polling stations in 30 provinces could be audited because of complaints about irregularities.
Abdullah won the first round of voting on April 5 by a large margin, but he says his campaign monitors recorded widespread ballot box stuffing and other efforts to rig the vote in favor of his rival. He suspended relations with electoral authorities and said he would boycott results if they were announced before his complaints were resolved.
IEC chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani expressed confidence the five-day delay would be sufficient time to ensure the transparency of the process. “We are under no pressure,” he said.
The winner will replace President Hamid Karzai, the only leader the country has known since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban. He was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Western officials had hoped for a smooth transfer of power ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. and allied combat troops by the end of this year. Both candidates have promised to sign a security pact with the Obama administration that would allow nearly 10,000 American forces to remain in the country in a training capacity and to conduct counterterrorism operations. A disruption in the announcement of election results could mean another delay in finalizing that agreement, which was rebuffed by Karzai.
According to the official timetable, final results are due on July 22, with the inauguration date for the new president scheduled for Aug. 2.
The election commission acknowledged further delays were possible but said in a statement that it “is committed to separating valid from invalid votes and preserving the integrity of the electoral process.”
Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official, said his team would accept the commission’s decision although he was critical of the delay.
“The commission had time to undertake all these audits during the stipulated time. That question need to be asked of the commission as to why they did not utilize the time because they changed their mind repeatedly as to what kind of audit, with what scale and over what period,” he told reporters.
“Our team wants to set an example in terms of compliance with rules and regulations,” he said. “What we are keen upon and we’ve been assured that the schedule of announcing final results and transfer of authority from President Karzai to his elected successor … will not change. That is the fundamental.”
A member of Abdullah’s campaign, Baryalai Arsalai, welcomed the delay in the announcement of preliminary results.
The U.N. mission in Afghanistan, meanwhile, said it had facilitated separate meetings between Abdullah, Ahmadzai and their running mates with ambassadors and other representatives of the international community Tuesday to discuss election-related issues and the way forward.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
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