U.S. President Barack Obama has congratulated the people of Afghanistan on the historic elections which he said promise to usher in the first democratic transfer of power in the war-ravaged country.

“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the millions of Afghans who enthusiastically participated in the historic elections, which promise to usher in the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on Saturday.

“The elections represent another important milestone in Afghans taking full responsibility for their country as the United States and our partners draw down our forces,” he said.

A day after millions of Afghans exercised their franchise for Presidential elections defying the Taliban threat, Mr. Obama commended the Afghan people, security forces, and elections officials on the turnout for voters, which he said “is in keeping with the spirited and positive debate among candidates and their supporters in the run-up to the election”.

“These elections are critical to securing Afghanistan’s democratic future, as well as continued international support,” Mr. Obama said.

“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,” he said.

Mr. Obama also paid tributes to the many Americans — military and civilian — who have sacrificed so much to support the Afghan people as they take responsibility for their own future.

“The U.S. continues to support a sovereign, stable, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the new government chosen by the Afghan people on the basis of mutual respect and mutual accountability,” the U.S. President said.

International community praises Afghan vote

The international community has widely praised Afghanistan for holding national elections that saw a heavy turnout despite complaints about a shortage of ballots and reports of fraud.

Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats and crowded into mosques and schools being used as polling centres to vote on Saturday for a new president and provincial councils. President Hamid Karzai is on his way out, constitutionally barred from a third team after leading the country since after the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

The front-runners to succeed Mr. Karzai are former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, Abdullah Abdullah — runner up in the 2009 election — and former World Bank academic Ashraf Ghani.

Ballot boxes have been loaded onto trucks and donkeys to be taken to Independent Election Commission facilities where they are being tallied. Officials have said partial results could be released as early as Sunday but caution it is likely to be at least a week before a complete picture emerges.

If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round — preliminary results for which will be announced on April 24 — a run-off is scheduled for late May.