By Benjamin Goad - 04/05/14 05:00 PM EDT
President Obama on Saturday hailed Afghanistan’s presidential election as an important milestone for the battle weary nation, as millions of cast ballots in the face of sporadic violence.
Obama, in a statement issued by the White House Saturday afternoon, described the race as “historic” to replace longtime leader Hamid Karzai, elected in 2001, after the Taliban was driven from power.
Rallies and events held by eleven candidates drew Afghanis by the thousands in the months leading up to Saturday’s crucial vote.
“We commend the Afghan people, security forces, and elections officials on the turnout for today’s vote — which is in keeping with the spirited and positive debate among candidates and their supporters in the run-up to the election,” Obama said.
The election comes as the U.S. military continues to draw down its combat troops from Afghanistan. The United States is pushing a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would allow troops to remain in the country in an advisory capacity for many years after.
But Karzai, who is termed out of the presidency, has refused to sign the agreement, leaving the decision to his successor.
In an apparent nod to the BSA, Obama said the United States looks “forward to continuing our partnership with the new government.” He lamented that election’s outcome holds major implications for both the country’s future and its place in the global community.
“These elections are critical to securing Afghanistan’s democratic future, as well as continued international support, and we look to the Afghan electoral bodies to carry out their duties in the coming weeks to adjudicate the results — knowing that the most critical voices on the outcome are those of Afghans themselves.”
Taliban threats of attacks on voters preceding the election were followed by only limited episodes of violence. As of late Saturday afternoon, four civilians and 16 Afghan security personnel were reported killed nationwide, while in excess of 4.6 million votes had been cast, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Saturday’s vote is expected to be followed by a run-off election next month, leading to the swearing in of the next president some time in late summer.