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NATO committed to Afghanistan regardless of poll worries

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO will remain committed to Afghanistan and must step up its effort there regardless of the outcome of contested presidential elections, the alliance’s secretary-general said on Wednesday.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses the media in Ankara August 28, 2009. NATO will remain committed to Afghanistan and must step up its effort there regardless of the outcome of contested presidential elections he said. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was for Afghans to judge whether the elections could be considered credible.

“Obviously we need a legitimate government in Afghanistan. I really hope the elections and the whole election process will be considered credible by the Afghan people,” he told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

However, he added: “We need to keep this election in perspective. Whatever happens, and I hope the final results will be credible, we must remember that we don’t have 60,000 troops in Afghanistan simply for elections.

“Credible elections are one of the many important parts of that but we should not forget that we have successfully kept Afghanistan from becoming once again a safe haven for terrorism and we will continue to do so,” he said.

He reiterated his call for NATO allies to step up training efforts for Afghan forces, which the alliance hopes will eventually take over security duties from the big foreign military presence in the country.

Incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s main rival Abdullah Abdullah has accused Karzai’s government of stuffing ballot boxes on a massive scale and has lodged hundreds of allegations of fraud in the Aug. 20 ballot.

With about half of votes tallied so far, partial results show Karzai maintaining a lead over Abdullah, although still without the outright majority needed to avoid a potentially destabilising run-off in October. Final results are due later this month.

Rasmussen said that while it was too early to make final judgements on allegations of fraud and levels of turnout, from a security point of view the elections had been a success, with voting taking place in more than 95 percent of polling stations and with only two percent of voting sites attacked.

The election was a major test for Karzai after eight years in power and of the West’s strategy to defeat the Taliban and stabilise Afghanistan in the face of recent gains by insurgents.

An independent fraud watchdog, the Election Complaints Commission, is investigating almost 2,500 allegations of abuse, including 567 it says are serious enough to affect the outcome.