By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL - About 15 percent of planned polling stations for this month's Afghan parliamentary election will not open because of poor security, officials said on Tuesday, with fears of attacks rising in insurgency strongholds in the east.
Security has worsened in many places since last year, making it harder to get Afghan and international election observers to polling centers. Candidates have complained that they cannot reach districts where they need to campaign because it is too dangerous.
The September 18 parliamentary election is seen as a litmus test for stability in Afghanistan ahead of a war strategy review to be conducted by the White House in December.
It is also a credibility test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai after a fraud-marred presidential poll last year which the Taliban also tried to disrupt.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt this election as well, and have urged Afghan voters to boycott the vote. The hardline Islamists have threatened to attack foreign forces first and then Afghan targets.
Independent Election Commission officials said another 81 polling centers would be shuttered in eastern Nangarhar province, near the porous border with Pakistan.
Last month the IEC said around 940 of nearly 6,900 polling centers would not open because of poor security. Most of those centers were in the south and east, but also in the north.
Security is a major concern ahead of the vote, with four candidates killed already, according to the United Nations and government officials.
Some of those attacks have been blamed on the Taliban.
About 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the wolesi jirga, or lower house of parliament, in Afghanistan's second parliamentary vote since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Paul Tait)