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August 20, 2009

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Afghans go to polls but insurgents stay defiant

POLICE stormed a bank in Kabul yesterday and killed three insurgents who had taken it over, while a wave of attacks killed at least six poll workers around the country on the eve of the presidential election, officials said.

A roadside bomb in the south, meanwhile, killed two US troops on Tuesday, while another American died of non-battle-related injuries, the US military said.

The three-man assault in Kabul came a day after two militant attacks in the capital, including rockets fired at the presidential palace. It also follows a suicide car bomb explosion in front of NATO's Kabul headquarters last Saturday that killed seven, a drumbeat of attacks that would appear to signal the intent of Taliban insurgents and their militant allies to disrupt today's vote.

President Hamid Karzai faces some three dozen presidential candidates at the polls, including his former foreign minister and top challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. Islamist insurgents have threatened violence against those who take part in the election - a crucial step in US President Barack Obama's campaign to turn around the situation.

In a sign of how difficult election preparations have been, Afghanistan's chief electoral officer said that 20 percent of election materials hadn't yet been delivered to voting sites less than 24 hours before polls open today. Daoud Ali Najafi said army helicopters would be used to deliver the materials to insecure and hard-to-reach regions.

The three armed men took over a branch of the Pashtani bank early yesterday in a section of Kabul's old city still in ruins from the country's 1990s civil war. Police surrounded the building, exchanging gunfire with the attackers for several hours.

Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, head of Kabul's criminal investigations unit, said police eventually stormed the building and killed three "terrorists." Few civilians were in the area because government ministries and businesses were closed yesterday in observance of Afghanistan's independence from British rule.


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