BRUSSELS, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Members of the European community said Thursday elections next year in Afghanistan will be a turning point but the country still needs long-term assistance.
Pierre Vimont, leader of the European External Action Service, said members of the European Union are ready to help prepare for and observe April provincial council and presidential elections in Afghanistan.
"Elections have an important contribution to make to any potential peace process," he said in a statement.
Elections in April will mark the first time power is handed from one democratically-elected government to the next in Afghanistan's history. More than a dozen presidential candidates and thousands of provincial council candidates are cleared to take part in the process.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is ineligible to compete because of term limits. Past elections were seen as skewed in his favor.
NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations Stephen Evans, a British diplomat, said elections shouldn't been seen as the end of the line for Afghanistan.
"Let's be frank: Afghanistan is and will remain for some time to come reliant on external assistance and therefore for Afghanistan the road towards greater stability, development and self-sufficiency will be long and challenging," he said.
International forces in 2014 wrap up combat obligations as national troops take on the responsibility of securing the country.