U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies during a hearing on Sept. 17, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
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John Kerry hails ‘extraordinary’ Afghan unity move

The Afghanistan Election Commission named the country’s new president on Sunday, wrapping up more than two months of a contentious battle over election results, ultimately decided with a deal to split power evenly between the two top candidates.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday hailed the agreement and pledged to continue helping the country in it’s first democratic transition of power.

“This was a moment of extraordinary statesmanship,” Kerry said in a statement. “These two men have put the people of Afghanistan first, and they’ve ensured that the first peaceful democratic transition in the history of their country begins with national unity.”

Election officials named Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Afghanistan’s former finance minister, as president. His opponent, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, will become the country’s next chief executive following an agreement between the two candidates signed earlier Sunday morning dividing power for each to share equally.

The election commission notably did not release official vote tallies, though according to NBC News, chairman Yousuf Noristani said the delayed results were due to widespread fraud after roughly one-third of votes needed to be recounted, and all ballots audited.

Afghans went to the polls in April for a historic election to replace two-term President Hamid Karzai who has served as the country’s leader through war since 2001. Preliminary counts of the June 14 run-off election put Ghani in the lead by more than 10 points, with 56%, prompting protests and allegations of fraud.

To stem potential violence, Kerry brokered a deal between the two candidates in July, agreeing to allow an audit of the ballots, honor the results once a winner was determined and ultimately share power once the next leader was announced.

The election result comes as the U.S. continues to draw down its military presence in Afghanistan following 13 years of war. The Obama administration is pressing for Afghanistan’s new leader to sign a security pact with the United States allowing roughly 10,000 American troop to remain in the country next year. Karzai has refused to sign the agreement, saying he would leave the decision up to Afghanistan’s next leader.

Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement Sunday that the White House hoped Ghani and Abdullah would be inaugurated and the security agreement signed swiftly to “enable and reinforce our strategic partnership and our commitment to support a future of stability for Afghanistan.”