WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has begun flying up to 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to Afghanistan to provide increased security for that country’s Oct. 9 presidential election, the military said on Wednesday.
The First Battalion of the Army’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment began flying from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for Afghanistan on Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman for the division.
“Between 700 and 1,000 troops are going at this point,” Maj. Amy Hannah told Reuters in a telephone interview. She said more members of the battalion flew out on Wednesday and the troops would be arriving this week.
Defense officials said last week that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had signed an order to deploy the airborne soldiers, who will bring the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 19,000.
Guerrillas have stepped up attacks ahead of the first scheduled direct presidential election in Afghanistan.
An Afghan vice president survived an assassination attempt on Monday when a remotely controlled device was detonated near his convoy.
Security fears during the monthlong campaign run-up to the election were also underlined last Thursday when a rocket exploded near President Hamid Karzai’s helicopter as he was landing in the southeast town of Gardez, forcing him to abort his first rally outside Kabul.
Karzai’s main rivals at that time called for the vote to be delayed at least a month, saying security worries meant they were unable to campaign properly.
Three U.S. soldiers have been killed in fighting with insurgents in Afghanistan this week.
The fresh airborne soldiers will be assigned to patrol populated areas in a highly visible commitment to security during the presidential voting, according to defense officials in Washington.
Hannah said some of the troops in the Fort Bragg battalion, known as the 82 Airborne Division’s “ready force,” already have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past two years.
“They are going to support and help the Afghan people,” she said, adding that they would be prepared to aid “in locating and holding accountable those who would interdict the election process.”