KABUL, Afghanistan — Defying threats by the Taliban, Afghans turned up at polling stations across the country to vote in the country's landmark presidential election Saturday, which appeared to unfold relatively smoothly despite a string of deadly attacks and allegations of fraud.
The day began somewhat ominously in Kabul as a handful of rockets detonated, but did not cause significant damage, before polling stations opened and a slight temblor shook the earth.
The runoff between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, 53, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, 64, has the potential to mark the first peaceful handover of power in Afghanistan's history if it is not marred by a disputed result or widespread violence.
Observers working for the campaign of Abdullah in Kabul reported instances of fraud at a couple of polling stations.
A credible election would go a long way to enable the United States to wind up its combat mission here by the end of the year and keep a residual force — as well as sustained financial aid — for years to come.
In Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan, insurgents began firing rockets Friday night in an apparent attempt to intimidate voters, said Gen. Mohammad Yaftali, the commander of the army's 203rd Corps.
Gen. Dawlat Waziri, the commander of the Afghan army's 201st Corps, said 16 people had been killed in clashes Saturday in the seven provinces his unit oversees. Most were soldiers, he said.
The scope of the violence around the country and its impact on the election could not be ascertained. It has been hard to promptly determine the level of bloodshed during previous Afghan elections because reports from remote parts of the country are often slow to trickle in.
The White House praised Afghan voters for their "courage and resolve" in the second round.
Official results are not expected before early July.