KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A slew of political heavyweights, along with the Afghan president's brother and a number of former warlords, will take part in next year's election for top office in a critical vote that that could determine the future course of Afghanistan and the level of foreign involvement here after 12 years of war.
The candidacies ended weeks of speculation over who will aspire to replace President Hamid Karzai, who has essentially run the country since the Oct. 7, 2001 invasion that ousted the Taliban. Karzai is not entitled to run for a third consecutive term in the April 5 elections, but is expected to back at least one of the candidates — his former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, despite the fact that his businessman brother Qayyum Karzai is also running for president.
As registrations opened earlier in the day, a bomb killed four U.S. soldiers in the south, military and Afghan officials said, the latest casualties among foreign troops on the eve of the 12th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of the country. The conflict has developed into an insurgency that shows no signs of abatement and a war that has become largely forgotten in the United States and among its coalition allies, despite continued casualties suffered by their forces on the ground.
The contenders are a mix of Afghanistan's past and current power players, including some warlords with a tainted history, a couple of technocrats and some complete political outsiders. All, however, come from Afghan elite that has to one degree or another shaped the country over the past 12 years.
By the end of the day and after a mad scramble by candidates, hundreds of supporters and heavily armed bodyguards, 27 presidential candidates had registered for the first independent vote organized by Afghanistan without direct foreign assistance.
The U.S.-led international military coalition had earlier said four of its service members were killed in the south, and a military official confirmed all were Americans killed by an "improvised explosive device." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Their deaths bring the toll among foreign forces to 132 this year, of which 102 are from the United States. At least 2,146 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. They are part of a total of nearly 3,390 coalition forces that have died during the conflict.
The attack came as Afghan security forces take over the brunt of the fighting after the coalition handed over security responsibilities for the country earlier this summer. This year, an average of least 100 Afghan soldiers and police has died each week.
The insurgency has tried to take advantage of the withdrawal of foreign forces to regain territory around the country. There are currently about 87,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan, including around 52,000 Americans. That number is expected to be halved by February, with U.S. numbers going down to about 31,000.