10 Years of War: Election marks a bright spot
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN: Afghan women and men wait in line in Afghanistan's first democratic election October 9,2004 at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan. (photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
October 6th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

10 Years of War: Election marks a bright spot

By CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy

Editor's note: This is the fourth of a five-part series on 10th anniversary of the start of the US war in Afghanistan. It tracks key moments from the past decade. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 were published earlier this week; Part 5 will be published Friday.

After the thunderous start to the war in Afghanistan in late 2001, the situation quickly settled into an almost quiet routine. Make no mistake: U.S. and coalition troops were still dying, but not at the rate that was seen at the start of the war and nothing like the death toll seen in recent years.

But by May 1, 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that "we are at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities."

Such stability would last through October 2004, when interim President Hamid Karzai would face a slew of competition in Afghanistan's first-ever national presidential election.

"It was quite positive because this was, for the first time in Afghanistan's 4,000- to 5,000-year-long history, a very competitive presidential election taking place, for people to choose their leader," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan at the time.

Khalilzad, who was born in Mazar e-Sharif before moving as a teen to the United States, remembers the extraordinary voter turnout. "The day of the election, so many people (were) waiting in lines all across Afghanistan. I remember leaving the embassy, going to several election stations myself and seeing such long lines of people that it reaffirmed in my own mind that people would like to have a say in who governs them," Khalilzad said.

"I think more than 7 million people voted that day," he said. Afghanistan has a population of 28 million.

And those more than 7 million voters went to the polls knowing the Taliban was threatening them with death.

"The election was very orderly, although there were threats by the Taliban to kill people who went to vote," Khalilzad said.

He remembers an inspirational story from that day. "There were some women in Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, who washed themselves, ablution, to prepare themselves in case they died, to be buried," he said. "They had gotten up very early when it still was dark, washing themselves, and doing their prayers, and going out to vote fully expecting that they might get killed. And they were prepared for that. But they were going to vote, nobody was going to stop them."

The results were never in much doubt. Karzai had been appointed interim president shortly after the war began and had spent months consolidating his support. "Everyone expected President Karzai to win," Khalilzad said. And he did.

There were complaints about Karzai's victory from some of his opponents. But, Khalilzad said, even though this was Afghanistan's first true presidential election, the candidates refused to let the voting controversies pull the country down. "Once they saw the gap between what President Karzai had achieved, in terms of the votes that he had gained, and the other contestants, I thought they showed maturity rather than dragging the country through a process of questioning the legitimacy of the elections or the outcome," he said.

Khalilzad remembers that time as a very positive one for Afghanistan, a stark contrast to 2009, when Karzai ran for re-election.

"We've got obviously a different environment in our relationship with the Afghan government. During that period, we were extremely closely and tightly together. It was a very positive relationship," Khalilzad said. "It has become much more contentious and difficult, in part because of the challenges that the government has not been addressing and in part because President Karzai has become more distrustful of the United States because of the last election, in which he believes the U.S. government worked against him."

Khalilzad left Afghanistan to become U.S. ambassador to Iraq less than a year after Karzai's first election. "I thought to myself as I left Afghanistan in 2005 to go to Iraq that it was on the right trajectory."

But he had two concerns. "One was that there were sanctuaries for the opposition that were being developed and in existence in the neighboring country of Pakistan." That's a problem that continues to this day, with the Taliban and the Haqqani networks operating and conducting cross-border attacks on civilians and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

"Two, I thought that institution-building in Afghanistan ... needed to be focused on much more, especially the security institutions. Because what Afghanistan had was a bunch of militias when we got there," Khalilzad said. That problem is being dealt with. As of this month, the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police number more than 300,000.

"We thought because things were going so well ... that the security institutions could be very small. And we started very slow." At the time, the U.S. and its coalition partners had about 9,000 troops in Afghanistan. In the three years from the start of the war until the election, about 179 American troops had died in Afghanistan. So far this year, 466 Americans have died in Operation Enduring Freedom. Today, there are some 130,000 U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces personnel in Afghanistan, and at least some of them are expected to be there beyond 2014.

soundoff (634 Responses)
  1. RV Repair Nearby


    June 30, 2021 at 10:53 am | Reply
  2. RV Repair Fountain Valley

    You made some decent points there. I looked on the internet to find out more about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this web site.


    June 30, 2021 at 9:40 am | Reply
  3. Sprinter By Keystone Slide Repair


    June 30, 2021 at 9:01 am | Reply
  4. 2006 Mercades Sprinter 2500 Turbo Actuator Repair


    June 30, 2021 at 7:25 am | Reply
  5. RV Repair Orange County California


    June 30, 2021 at 3:28 am | Reply
  6. RV Repair Near Me Now


    June 30, 2021 at 1:34 am | Reply
  7. Promaster Van Conversion Shop Near Me

    Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day. It's always useful to read articles from other writers and use something from other sites.


    June 30, 2021 at 1:30 am | Reply
  8. where to buy delta 8

    Wow, great article.Really thank you!


    June 30, 2021 at 1:16 am | Reply
  9. fortnite v bucks generator

    Hello There. I discovered your blog the usage of
    msn. This is an extremely neatly written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and come back
    to learn more of your useful information. Thank you for
    the post. I'll definitely comeback.

    June 30, 2021 at 12:09 am | Reply
  10. Rv Maintenance

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes which will make the largest changes. Thanks for sharing!


    June 29, 2021 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  11. Windshield Replacement


    June 29, 2021 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  12. Kids Baby

    After looking over a few of the blog posts on your web page, I really appreciate your technique of blogging.
    I added it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back in the near future.

    Take a look at my web site as well and let me know your opinion.

    June 29, 2021 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  13. RV Repair Shops Near Me

    Great site you have here.. Itís hard to find excellent writing like yours these days. I honestly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!


    June 29, 2021 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  14. Sprinter Repair Shop Near Me


    June 29, 2021 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  15. pharmaceptica

    where to buy sildenafil uk https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 29, 2021 at 11:45 am | Reply
  16. RV Repair Shops Nearby


    June 29, 2021 at 11:32 am | Reply
  17. RV Repair Shop

    This is a good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere. Brief but very accurate informationÖ Thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!


    June 29, 2021 at 10:39 am | Reply
  18. RV Repair Mission Viejo

    I seriously love your blog.. Great colors & theme. Did you make this site yourself? Please reply back as Iím attempting to create my very own website and would like to know where you got this from or what the theme is called. Kudos!


    June 29, 2021 at 8:23 am | Reply
  19. Nearby RV Repair

    This is a topic that is near to my heart... Take care! Where are your contact details though?


    June 29, 2021 at 8:13 am | Reply
  20. Sprinter Van Front Wiper Rust Repair

    I could not refrain from commenting. Exceptionally well written!


    June 29, 2021 at 8:04 am | Reply
  21. asitorboiler Com

    Hurrah, that's what I was searching for, what a stuff!
    present here at this blog, thanks admin of this site.

    June 29, 2021 at 6:33 am | Reply
  22. Ram Van Frame Repair


    June 29, 2021 at 6:32 am | Reply
  23. RV Repair Mission Viejo

    Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful post. Many thanks for supplying this information.


    June 29, 2021 at 1:41 am | Reply
  24. Dvd Store

    It'ѕ really a nice and heⅼpful piece of info.

    I am happy that yоu simply shared this useful info with us.
    Please keep us up to date like thіs. Thanks for sharing.

    June 29, 2021 at 12:38 am | Reply
  25. Rv Repair Shop


    June 29, 2021 at 12:03 am | Reply
  26. RV Repair Near Me Now


    June 29, 2021 at 12:03 am | Reply
  27. Ford Luxury Van Repair Shop Near Me

    Spot on with this write-up, I absolutely think this website needs a lot more attention. Iíll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the advice!


    June 28, 2021 at 10:20 pm | Reply
  28. Upgrades Shop Near Me


    June 28, 2021 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  29. RV Repair Around Me


    June 28, 2021 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  30. RV Repair Shops Near Me


    June 28, 2021 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  31. Custom Van Repair Shop

    Aw, this was an exceptionally good post. Taking the time and actual effort to make a really good articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I put things off a whole lot and don't manage to get anything done.


    June 28, 2021 at 5:51 am | Reply
  32. RV Repair


    June 28, 2021 at 1:19 am | Reply
  33. Rv Restoration Shop

    Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to make a great articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I put things off a whole lot and don't manage to get anything done.


    June 27, 2021 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  34. RV Repair Shops Near Me Now


    June 27, 2021 at 5:59 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.