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Fort Drum commander: Looming Afghan presidential election critical

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FORT DRUM — For 10th Mountain Division soldiers in eastern Afghanistan, one date has priority over all others: April 5.

That’s the date of presidential elections in the country, potentially representing the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history.

Afghan forces will lead in security, with American and other coalition forces in a backup role.

“We want it to be inclusive. We want it to be transparent. We want it to be deemed as accessible and acceptable by the rest of the international community,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of the 10th Mountain Division and the RC-East-leading Combined Joint Task Force 10. “But in the end, one thing matters, that the results are acceptable to the Afghan people.”

Gen. Townsend spoke to local media in a satellite call to post Tuesday morning.

The 8,500-person task force is supporting Afghan military and police units in 14 provinces. Other division forces serving in the region are the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 10th Sustainment Brigade. The division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team is in the process of returning to its home installation, Fort Polk, La.

The looming elections are a change of pace for Gen. Townsend, who was in Afghanistan during the 2010 parliamentary elections. At that time, American forces were more actively supporting Afghan security efforts.

“Now, we’re intending to help them almost not at all,” he said.

Gen. Townsend pointed out that a recent test for Afghan security forces, a ceremony marking the end of a yearlong selection of Ghazni as the Islamic capital of the region, went without any enemy interference.

The strength of the Afghan forces was the biggest change noted by Gen. Townsend, on his fourth deployment in the country and its eastern region.

Though there is some advising to the Afghans from the American and coalition forces, Gen. Townsend said, “for the most part they are leading the fight and fighting on their own.”

That kind of change is critical as the deadline for major American activity in the country at the end of 2014 draws closer, shifting into a NATO mission in 2015.

“We think they should be able to take that fight up on their own,” Gen. Townsend said. “Right now, I am optimistic they will be able to do that.”

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