President Bush (search) called the election of a legislature in Afghanistan a step on the road to democracy while the U.S. ambassador there said it was part of a "grinding process" that would require U.S. troops to remain in the country for some time.

Bush, in a statement Monday, congratulated the Afghan people, saying they defied Taliban and "those who threaten their lives."

Ambassador Ronald E. Neuman (search), in a telephone news conference, said the elections would have a powerful impact but did not point the way toward a U.S. military withdrawal.

"I think we are going to have to be here for a while," Neumann told reporters at the State Department in a hookup with Kabul. He did not predict when U.S. troops would depart.

Afghanistan (search), with little democratic tradition and after oppressive Taliban rule, is making progress "or we wouldn't have had a quiet election," Neumann said. "But it is not the end of the road."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) called the elections held Sunday further evidence of Afghanistan's "continuing democratic development."

She made no reference to the presence of U.S. troops in a statement issued by the department's press office and did not make herself available to reporters at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Having held their first election, for president, last October, Afghans now in parliamentary and provincial elections "again demonstrated their commitment to build a free country with national democratic institutions," Rice said.

Neumann said the milestones ahead were the seating of the parliament, possibly by December, the seating of provincial assemblies and the building of an economy and an effective government.

"They are doing things that never happened here before," he said with evident satisfaction.

"There was no sense people were staying away from the election out of fear," he said.