An Afghan man signs with his thumb print as he registers Nov. 9 for the upcoming presidential election in 2014 in a makeshift mobile registration office in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP)
WASHINGTON — Taliban militants plan to disrupt upcoming presidential elections but are struggling with how to achieve that without alienating the majority of people who want to vote, coalition officials say.
"They're really having a hard time figuring out how is it they can intimidate the public without driving the public away," said Marine Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, a top coalition operations officer in Kabul. "The momentum of society is working against them.
"What they tend to do is try and put in an intimidation campaign ahead of time," he said.
Taliban leaders are worried about tactics that would further erode public support.
"If they do something that is completely unpopular then they would pay a price," said Said Jawad, a former Afghan ambassador to the United States.
Elections are scheduled for April 5, 2014.
The security will be handled almost entirely by Afghan police and soldiers. U.S. and coalition forces are increasingly in a support role in Afghanistan.
It will be possible to secure most of the polling places because they will be in large towns and city, which are relatively secure, Jawad said. Remote areas have fewer voters but are more vulnerable to disruption by militants or criminals.
"The ability of the Taliban to disrupt the election is limited," Jawad said.
Militants will probably attempt to use tactics they hope will create a sense of disorder without alienating the public.
In September, the Taliban claimed responsibility for killing an Afghan election official, a move that government officials interpreted as an opening move in a larger campaign to skew the elections. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the killing, saying that "an inclusive election will be held in this country, and the enemy's plots against that will fail, and nothing will remain to the Taliban except denigration and disgrace."
Militants may also attempt to launch attacks that will divert government forces from protecting voters.
Coalition officials say Taliban rebels have been weakened this fighting season, limiting their ability to launch attacks.
Violence levels were about 8 to 10 percent lower this season than the same time last year, according to the coalition command.
The election comes about the same time as the poppy harvest, which has been a key funding source for militants, which will force the insurgents to choose between bringing in the harvest or trying to disrupt the election.