US officials insisted on Thursday they were confident in the increased ability of Afghan forces to secure landmark weekend elections, despite an outburst of rebel violence targeting the polls.

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Two senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, argued that Afghan forces partnering NATO soldiers were significantly more accomplished than they were during corruption-marred presidential polls last year.

“Security is going to be a challenge,” said one of the officials, on a day when Taliban-linked rebels killed three NATO soldiers, two election workers and five security guards in separate attacks, two days ahead of a parliamentary vote.

“What I am suggesting is that the Afghan forces who are in the lead in dealing with that security problem are also a year more mature than they were last year,” the official said, noting close cooperation with NATO forces.

“We think given the set of circumstances that Afghanistan is in, that appropriate measures have been taken.”

The official portrayed the polls as a “milestone” and an important sign of progress in the US-led effort to help frame a stable Afghan government and beat back insurgents to provide security to Afghan people.

But he also warned that the Taliban were sure to target the elections because “they are threatened” by a countrywide event that calls their legitimacy into question.

The Taliban has threatened to attack polling centres during Saturday’s election, only the second parliamentary polls in Afghanistan since the Islamic militia was removed from power in 2001.

Tens of thousands of Afghan and US-led NATO forces will provide security for Saturday’s vote, but there are still fears of fraud, violence and a low turnout.

The officials also stressed that reforms in the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission had been introduced in a bid to head off some of the fraud that marred the presidential polls.

But they conceded that given the security context in Afghanistan and the political situation, the elections were not going to be without problems, and some irregularities would be likely.

“We believe the election will be better, but not perfect,” another senior official said, comparing the polls to the presidential elections.

The elections come amid widening questions in the United States about the efficacy of President Barack Obama’s war effort, as and his surge strategy reaches a peak of numbers with more than 100,000 US troops now deployed.

Around 10.5 million Afghans are eligible to vote for the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga.