The War Lord Who Is Key to Karzai's Victory

The U.S. and many Afghans may see Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum as the epitome of the worst brand of warlord politics, but to President Hamid Karzai he represents a bloc of votes crucial to winning reelection. The feared Uzbek warlord, who returned to Afghanistan from Turkish exile on Monday, urged some 10,000 people gathered in his home district to vote for Karzai. The president needs to win more than 50% of the votes cast on Thursday to avoid a runoff election. And Dostum figures his endorsement will deliver 500,000 additional votes to the incumbent.

Taliban's pre-election bombing intensifies

KABUL, Afghanistan | Insurgents stepped up a bombing campaign Tuesday in an apparent attempt to disrupt Thursday's elections, and the government countered by restricting local and international media reports of extremist attacks on election day.

A suicide attack on a NATO convoy killed at least eight people: seven civilians and one NATO service member near Kabul. At least 55 were wounded.

Security ramps up for Afghan election

KABUL, Afghanistan | As Afghanistan's second-ever presidential campaign season came to a close Monday, authorities moved to tighten security in the face of Taliban threats to disrupt the vote with attacks on polling stations.

Fears persist that militant violence could affect balloting in the Pashtun-dominated south with adverse results for President Hamid Karzai, the Pashtun front-runner. Mr. Karzai needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

The Taliban Threat to Disrupt Afghanistan Election

For months, residents of the southern frontier city where the Taliban was born have awoken to "night letters" left on their doorsteps and pasted on walls ordering them to boycott Afghanistan's second-ever presidential election, on Aug 20. Those letters have now turned into death threats. The latest, seen by TIME, is purportedly authored by Mullah Ghulam Haider, the alleged Taliban commander in Kandahar city. It says those who vote will be considered "enemies of Islam" and could "become a victim" of "new tactics." It does not offer details.

The Don Quixote of Afghanistan: A Long Shot's Quest

When he's not canvassing the Afghan backcountry in his beat-up Toyota mini-bus, Ramazan Bashardost, 48, arrives at his presidential campaign headquarters — a gray tent — at 5:30 each morning. It sits across the street from the Afghan parliament and is open to the public, without the gun-wielding bodyguards that surround other high-profile candidates. "My name means 'friend of humans'," he offers, by way of explanation. "I am here for everyone."

Karzai challenger hopes for runoff

JAGHORI, Afghanistan | Swaying from the sunroof of a dirt-streaked 4x4, Abdullah Abdullah could only grin.

In his first visit to this poor, ethnic-Hazara enclave in east-central Afghanistan, the Tajik-Pashtun candidate for president was received by more than 1,000 people who jostled to get a clear look at him, snatched pictures with cell phone cameras and killed a cow in his honor.

Handing Out Candy and Kicking Down Doors

One April afternoon, Lt. David Ochs, an earnest 23-year-old from Charlottesville, prepared to hand out humanitarian aid in a village called De Kak Chopan near the Helmand border. Churches and other groups had sent his platoon heaps of donated goods, but he had a hard time giving them away. At least one Afghan had begged Ochs to take his charity elsewhere, saying the Taliban would cut off his head if they learned he had accepted anything from the Americans.