KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban suicide bomber attacked an Afghan air force bus in Kabul Wednesday, killing at least eight military personnel, officials said, as the militants step up their campaign of violence aimed at undermining the Western-backed government.
The bombing came as the country struggles through its first democratic transition of power, with electoral officials announcing Wednesday that the release of initial election results has been postponed until next week due to allegations of fraud.
Army Gen. Kadamshah Shahim said the bomber was stopped before he could enter the bus, likely limiting the number of casualties. The Defense Ministry gave the death toll and said 13 others were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack via spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
Preliminary results from a June 14 runoff vote between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai had been due on Wednesday. But the Independent Election Commission said they were being postponed until Monday so ballots from 1,930 polling stations in 30 provinces could be audited because of complaints about irregularities.
Abdullah won the first round of voting on April 5 by a large margin, but he says his campaign monitors recorded widespread ballot box stuffing and other efforts to rig the vote in favor of his rival. He suspended relations with electoral authorities and said he would boycott results if they were announced before his complaints were resolved.
IEC chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani expressed confidence the five-day delay would be sufficient time to ensure the transparency of the process. "We are under no pressure," he said.
Western officials had hoped for a smooth transfer of power ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. and allied combat troops by the end of this year. Both candidates have promised to sign a security pact with the Obama administration that would allow nearly 10,000 American forces to remain in the country in a training capacity and to conduct counterterrorism operations. A disruption in the announcement of election results could mean another delay in finalizing that agreement, which was rebuffed by Karzai.
According to the official timetable, final results are due on July 22, with the inauguration date for the new president scheduled for Aug. 2.
The election commission acknowledged further delays were possible but said in a statement that it "is committed to separating valid from invalid votes and preserving the integrity of the electoral process."
The U.N. mission in Afghanistan, meanwhile, said it had facilitated separate meetings between Abdullah, Ahmadzai and their running mates with ambassadors and other representatives of the international community Tuesday to discuss election-related issues and the way forward.
A member of Abdullah's campaign, Baryalai Arsalai, welcomed the delay in the announcement of preliminary results and called on Ahmadzai's team to cooperate with the process.
Ahmadzai had no immediate comment.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.