KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's troubled presidential election was thrown into further turmoil Tuesday when a U.N.-backed complaints panel charged widespread fraud and ordered a partial recount, just as election officials announced that President Hamid Karzai appeared to have gained enough votes to win.
The growing political crisis threatens to create a direct confrontation between Karzai and his Western backers, who have been increasingly alarmed by mounting evidence of ballot box stuffing and other irregularities in the Aug. 20 election, much of it reportedly benefiting Karzai.
The widening fraud issue now seems likely to further prolong the slow election process, leaving the country without a clear leader for weeks or even months while tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are battling the Taliban alongside Afghan forces.
Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's top challenger in the race, has charged the entire vote was a "state engineered fraud" and hinted he may not be able to control his emotional supporters if the government steals the election.
The U.S. State Department urged "all the different actors out there" to show patience.
In a strongly worded statement, the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission said it had found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" in many polling stations, especially across the southern provinces that form Karzai's ethnic support base. The panel said it was ordering the Afghan election commission to conduct a recount of votes from all polling places where turnout appeared to be more than 100 percent, or where a single candidate received 95 percent or more of the votes.
Just hours later, the Afghan election commission said Karzai had won 54 percent of 5.4 million valid votes tallied - 91 percent of the total. The results indicate he likely has enough votes to avoid a runoff with Abdullah, who has 28 percent, since Afghan law only requires a runoff if no candidate wins more than 50 percent.
4 Americans killed in Afghan attack
Four U.S. troops died Tuesday in a militant attack in eastern Afghanistan. Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman, said four American troops were killed in "a complex attack" in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province, but she did not give details. McClatchy Newspapers reported four U.S. Marines died in an ambush by insurgents. It said seven Afghan troops and an interpreter also were killed in the attack and hourslong battle that followed.
Also Tuesday, NATO forces acknowledged for the first time that civilians were among the dozens killed in an airstrike Friday on two hijacked fuel trucks. An Afghan official appointed by President Hamid Karzai to examine the attack said his best estimate of the toll was 82, including at least 45 militants.