Usually, an Afghan election — a $100 million, Western-funded exercise — draws foreigners to Kabul like flies to honey, with incoming flights full of consultants, international monitors, diplomats and journalists. Not this time. Now, it is the flights out that are full, and the incoming planes are half empty. With the possible exception of journalists, foreigners have been leaving Afghanistan like never before during an election period after a series of attacks on foreign targets and the commission running the vote. An attack on the offices of the Independent Election Commission went on all Saturday afternoon, with staff members hiding in armored bunkers and safe rooms while five insurgents fired rockets and small arms at the commission’s compound, having sneaked into a building nearby disguised in burqas.
There were no reported casualties among the election staff, but flights to Kabul were diverted because the airport was shut down for most of the afternoon, said the airport’s director, Mohammad Yaqoub Rasooli.
Even before the attack on Saturday, many international election monitors had either drastically curtailed their activities or made plans to evacuate their foreign employees, potentially raising serious questions about the validity of the election.
The National Democratic Institute, a mainstay of previous Afghan elections, closed its Kabul office and sent its international monitors home after one was killed in a recent attack on the Serena Hotel, where the monitors were staying, said Kathy Gest, the institute’s spokeswoman.