Soldiers Secure Afghan Polling Places

09/17/10 7:34AM By Steve Zind
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Report From Afghanistan

VPR/Steve Zind
The desks were cleared from this classroom to make room for voting.

(Host)  If all goes well, Vermont Guard members who provide support to Afghanistan's national police will have little to do tomorrow when Afghans go to the polls for parliamentary elections. 

But members of Bravo Troop 1st Squadron 172nd Cavalry out of Bennington have been busy in the days leading up to the  elections. 

As VPR's Steve Zind tells us in this Report From Afghanistan , the soldiers have been trying to make sure polling places in Parwan Province are ready for voters - and for those who would disrupt the elections.

(Zind)  Wednesday morning, three days before the election a contingent of Vermont soldiers rolled in to Combat Outpost Red Hill in Parwan Province.  All that was there was a perimeter of half built protective walls and an empty area bulldozed flat.  

VPR/Steve Zind
Another of the polling places seemed run down. We were told only women would vote here.

By the end of the day the soldiers had erected a series of fabric Quonset huts, cooked a steak dinner on a portable barbecue and settled in for their first night at the outpost.   

The next morning they set out on patrol

(soldier)  "Alright, we're going to go out to Highway 1 and we're going to turn left and we're going to go north into the area that's not on this map and we're going to find route New York."

(Zind)  The Vermont Guard had moved into the outpost, even though it's not yet built in order to be in position for the parliamentary elections this weekend.  Until then, they'll have a busy schedule.  On Election Day, Saturday, they hope to have little to do - just hunker down at the outpost unless there's serious trouble and they're called in by the Afghan National Police, which is responsible for securing the country's polling places.

Sergeant First Class Bryn Reynolds of Saratoga, NY, is leading a convoy of gun trucks out into the countryside.  This is a relatively peaceful province, compared to the restive areas south of here. 

VPR/Steve Zind
At one of the polling places.

The first stop is a police station, where a detective on duty agrees to take the soldiers to a polling station within walking distance.

(Reynolds)  "There's a polling station about a four or five minute walk that way, but you have to go dismounted."

(Zind) The walk to this and the drive to other polling stations is designed not only to inspect the Afghan police security there, but to show an American presence on the streets in the days leading up to the voting.  As Reynolds sees it if there's going to be any trouble, its likely to occur before the voting.  

(Reynolds)  "The potential in my opinion would be there for some sort of an event to occur the day before the election to dissuade people from going to the polling places."

(Zind)  Reynolds says there's been no indication that there will be serious trouble, but two days before the elections there were several rocket attacks not far from this area.  And on Thursday night insurgents struck just a mile and a half from Combat Outpost Red Hill. 

(Higgins) "Can we look inside, look around inside."

(Zind)  The convoy of four gun trucks rolls through narrow village streets where its likely people haven't seen the American military before. 

At each polling place Lieutenant Matt Higgins of Hingham, Massachusetts asks a series of questions.  How many voters are expected?  How many police officers will staff the polling place?  And, are any problems anticipated?  The answer to that last question is the same at each place.

(Higgins) "Are you expecting any trouble in this place?"

(Translator in Dari then English)" No."

VPR
Reporter Steve Zind (5th from the left) at a large modern school where Afghans will vote.

(Zind)  Afghan National Police reassure the soldiers there will be tight security at the polling places and they expect the voting to go smoothly.

After 5 hours on the road, the convoy returns to the Spartan trappings of Combat Outpost Red Hill. 

The lights of Bagram Airbase with all its comforts, glitter in the distance. And as the day ends, Sgt. Seamus Fennessy of Brooklyn, NY, offers up a song.   

(Fennessey sings)

(Zind) And the Vermont Guard soldiers move one more day closer to what they hope will be an uneventful election in this area of Afghanistan.

For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind at Combat Outpost Red Hill in Parwan Province, Afghanistan.

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