By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 21, 2009 - President Barack Obama today praised the courage of the Afghan people for participating in yesterday's national election despite threats by the Taliban to disrupt the process. "Over the last few days -- and particularly yesterday -- we've seen acts of violence and intimidation by the Taliban, and there may be more in the days to come," the president said. "We knew that the Taliban would try to derail this election. Yet even in the face of this brutality, millions of Afghans exercised the right to choose their leaders and determine their own destiny. And as I watched the election, I was struck by their courage in the face of intimidation, and their dignity in the face of disorder."
Obama called the election "an important step forward in the Afghan people's effort to take control of their future, even as violent extremists are trying to stand in their way."
It was the first democratic election run by Afghans in more than three decades, with more than 30 presidential candidates and more than 3,000 provincial council candidates running for office, including a record number of women, the president noted. Some 6,000 polling stations were open around the country, and Afghan national security forces took the lead in providing security, he added.
"There is a clear contrast between those who seek to control their future at the ballot box and those who kill to prevent that from happening," Obama said. "Once again, extremists in Afghanistan have shown themselves willing to murder innocent Muslims -- men, women and children -- to advance their aims.
"But I believe that the future belongs to those who want to build -- not those who want to destroy. And that is the future that was sought by the Afghans who went to the polls, and the Afghan national security forces who protected them."
The president emphasized that the United States did not support any candidate in this election. "Our only interest was the result fairly, accurately reflecting the will of the Afghan people, and that is what we will continue to support as the votes are counted, and we wait for the official results from the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission," he said.
Obama also praised the American servicemembers and civilians serving in Afghanistan.
"Our men and women in uniform are doing an extraordinary job in Afghanistan. So are the civilians who serve by their side," he said. "All of them are in our thoughts and prayers, as are their families back home. This is not a challenge that we asked for -- it came to our shores when al-Qaida launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan. But America, our allies and partners -- and above all, the Afghan people -- share a common interest in pursuing security, opportunity, and justice."
Meanwhile, he added, the United States will continue to work with its Afghan partners to strengthen security, governance and opportunity in Afghanistan.
"Our goal is clear: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and their extremist allies," the president said. "That goal will be achieved -- and our troops will be able to come home -- as Afghans continue to strengthen their own capacity, and take responsibility for their own future."