KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai's campaign team claimed Friday he was on track for victory in the country's presidential election, while his close rival Abdullah Abdullah also said he was leading the vote.
Electoral workers count votes at a school in Kabul.
Their claims came as election officials said the results of the vote, seen as a judgment on the Karzai government's efforts in tackling Taliban insurgents, poverty and corruption, would be rolled out starting August 25.
Wahid Omar, campaign manager for Karzai, told CNN that based on information gathered from supporters in the field, his team believed they were on track to win the election first round and prevent an October run-off.
Meanwhile Abdullah, seen as Karzai's main challenger, told Associated Press Television that he believed he was leading, characterizing the vote count as "promising" despite what he described as sporadic "rigging" across the country.
Thursday's election, the country's second since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, was held amid a climate of fear as militants threatened to violently disrupt the process. Violence on voting day killed 26 Afghans and injured scores more.
U.S. President Barack Obama offered strong praise Friday for the election, calling it "an important step forward" in Afghanistan's struggle for democracy in the face of ideological extremists.
"The future belongs to those who want to build, not ... destroy," Obama said at the White House, adding that he was struck by the "courage in the face of intimidation" demonstrated by the millions of Afghans who went to the polls.
He also emphasized that the United States does not favor any particular candidate. "Our goal is clear: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and their extremist allies," he said.
The European Commission on Friday offered congratulations to Afghanistan for staging "successful" elections, but cautioned candidates "to respect the electoral process and refrain from premature announcements on possible outcomes." Watch how counting is underway in Afghan provinces
The International Republican Institute, an international election observation group with over 60 monitors on the ground said in a statement that there were "many credible reports that voter registration cards were sold" raising concerns about multiple voting and that security concerns had repressed turn-out.
IRI also criticized Karzai for the unfair use of of state resources which it said were "used during the campaign despite legal prohibitions; for example, the state run media did not provide balanced coverage of the presidential race, heavily favoring the incumbent."
Because of these and other problems, IRI said, the elections were brought to "a lower standard than the 2004 and 2005 Afghan elections" but concluded that based on its observations that "the process so far has been credible."
The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan said Friday it expects to announce preliminary results piecemeal from August 25 to September 5.
Zekeria Barakzi, the deputy chief electoral officer for the IECA told CNN the counting was complete in 30 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
Barakzi said that after September 5 there would be a period of accepting objections and complaints about the elections. Asked how long this period would be, Barakzi said possibly a month.
Prior to the election the IECA had stated that it would announce preliminary results on September 3 and final certified results on September 17.
A spokeswoman for the American Embassy in Kabul said the United States has "every confidence that they [IECA] will be able to finish this part of the electoral process in a transparent fashion."
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