Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 16:18 UK

Brown hails Afghan poll security

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown said elections would not have been possible without UK forces

Gordon Brown has paid tribute to British forces in Afghanistan who have helped ensure elections have passed off without any major violence so far.

The prime minister told BBC News the stability of Afghanistan was essential to the security of the UK.

Counting has begun in the second Afghan presidential election since 2001.

There have been some attacks by the Taliban, who had vowed to disrupt the vote, but the UN said the vast majority of polling stations were unaffected.

Fewer people voted in the south, where militant influence is greater.

Some 300,000 Afghan and international troops were on patrol to prevent attacks across the country as a whole.

The prime minister, who is in Scotland, broke off from his summer holiday to check progress with Britain's Ambassador in Kabul and the senior British commander on the ground in Afghanistan.

'Major sacrifices'

Speaking at his constituency home in North Queensferry, Fife, Mr Brown said: "What we are seeing is the first elections that Afghanistan has organised for itself in 30 years.

"But what we have also seen is a massive attempt by terrorists to disrupt the electoral process, to prevent people from voting, indeed to intimidate people from voting and I want to thank our British forces for everything that they have done to make sure that these elections can take place.

"This has been a very difficult summer, with major sacrifices and major losses as as result of the campaign by the terrorists."

He said it was important that "millions of people have been able to go to the polls in Afghanistan" but also that the election had gone off without fraud, a situation which Nato monitors would report on "over the next few days".

He added: "It's important also to recognise that these elections would not be possible without the British forces being so important to the conduct and to the achievement of stability in Afghanistan.

"And I think we have always got to remember that security of us here in the streets of Britain is dependant on us having stability in Afghanistan."

President Hamid Karzai faces about 30 rivals. Initial official results are not expected for two weeks, but there may be earlier indications.

The election follows a lively campaign period in which dozens of candidates vied for the presidency - but it was marred by violent attacks and frequent complaints of pre-election corruption and fraud.

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