The Taliban on Monday vowed to target Afghanistan's presidential election, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces before the April 5 vote to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai.
Previous Afghan elections have been badly marred by violence, with at least 31 civilians and 26 soldiers and police killed on polling day alone in 2009 as the Islamist militants displayed their opposition to the U.S.-backed polls.
Another blood-stained election would damage claims by international donors that the expensive military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 has made progress in establishing a functioning state system.
NATO combat troops will withdraw from the country by the end of 2014 after 13 years of fighting a fierce Islamist insurgency that erupted when the Taliban were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
"We have given orders to all our mujahideen to use all force at their disposal to disrupt these upcoming sham elections -- to target all workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices," the Taliban said in an emailed statement.
"It is the religious obligation of every Afghan to fulfill their duty by foiling the latest plot of the invaders that is guised in the garb of elections."
Billions of dollars have been spent on military operations and development in Afghanistan, but the country remains wracked by poverty and violence with weak government structures and a fragile economy dependent on aid cash.
"We once again call on all of our countrymen to keep away from electoral offices, voting booths, rallies and campaigns so that may Allah forbid, their lives are not put into danger," the Taliban said.
"If anyone still persist in participating then they are solely responsible for any loss in the future."
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