Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai, says national elections will be delayed until September to give the United Nations more time to organize the vote.
Under an international agreement that brought President Karzai to power in late 2001, Afghanistan's presidential and parliamentary elections were to be held simultaneously in June.
But speaking at a news conference in Kabul Sunday, President Karzai said U.N. and Afghan officials needed more time to organize the elections, and the vote will now be held in September.
Officials say security problems and delays in voter registration were the main reasons for the delay.
The decision to postpone the vote came a day before President Karzai was due to leave for Berlin to attend an Afghan aid donors meeting. The Afghan leader says he will raise the security issue at the meeting.
"In particular, I will emphasize security for the Afghan people during the elections, so that they can vote freely and of their choice in the elections," stressed Mr. Karzai. "The international community is fully aware of the need in Afghanistan to make it more secure for the Afghan people, in order to have free and fair elections."
United Nations special representative for Afghanistan Jean Arnault has welcomed President Karzai's decision to delay the elections until September. He told reporters in Kabul that the move also would allow time for NATO to expand its peacekeeping operations outside the Afghan capital.
"A U.S.-led multinational force of more than 13,000 soldiers is engaged separately in hunting down remnants of the ousted Taleban government and the al-Qaida terror network across Afghanistan," said Mr. Arnault.
The United States says about 2,000 Marines will soon be added to the hunt for al-Qaida and Taleban fugitives, and to increase security ahead of the elections.
These Marines will join the 13,500 coalition troops currently serving in Afghanistan," said Lieutenant Colonel Michele Dewerth, is the spokeswoman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. "They are here to search for the remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida. But we have to remember that this is more than about one or two people. This about bringing enduring security and reconstruction to the people of Afghanistan."
Taleban and al-Qaida fugitives have been waging a low-level guerrilla war, mainly targeting foreign and Afghan troops, as well as aid workers. The violence has claimed hundreds of lives in the past two years.