KABUL -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his armed forces have taken over the leadership of security operations across the country after a Kabul ceremony marking the handover from NATO-led forces.
Karzai welcomed the handover of the leadership to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police on during a ceremony at the National Defense University in Kabul on June 18.
"This has been one of my greatest desires and pursuits, and I am glad that I -- as an Afghan citizen and the Afghan president -- have reached this objective today to have the Afghan forces in command of themselves and in service of the country," Karzai said.
"For the people of Afghanistan, this is equally and perhaps more a great day where the Afghan people will see their own children, their own young ones, providing protection to their lives and to their country."
Karzai called for "positive engagement" from Pakistan to ensure long-term peace and regional stability.
In Dubai, Reuters quoted an unnamed Afghan diplomat who said Afghan Taliban planned to open an liaison office in Qatar as soon as June 18.
At a news conference after the handover ceremony, Karzai said he would send the Afghan Peace Council to Qatar for talks with the Taliban.
"We don't have any immediate preconditions for talks between the Afghan Peace Council and the Taliban, but we have principles laid down," Karzai said in Kabul. "The principles are that the talks, having begun in Qatar, must immediately be moved to Afghanistan. Second, that the talks must bring about an end to violence in Afghanistan. Third, that the talks must not become a tool for any third country for exploitation with regard to its or their interests in Afghanistan."
The handover of command focused on the last remaining areas where NATO-led forces were still in charge.
Afghanistan's Defense Ministry says Afghan troops will soon be carrying out security operations in volatile area of southern and eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban continue to fight -- such as the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Khost, Paktia, and Kunar.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the ceremony that Afghan troops represent "a formidable force."
"At the NATO summit last year we agreed that by the middle of this year we would reach an important milestone where your forces would be taking the lead for security across the country," Rasmussen said. "We can all be proud that we have delivered on this objective and that Afghan forces today are taking the lead on security."
After the transition to full Afghan control over security, some 100,000 international forces still in the country are meant to play a supporting and training role for about 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police. All foreign combat troops in the international coalition are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Bomb Attack In Kabul
In western Kabul on June 18, prominent ethnic Hazara lawmaker Mohammad Mohaqiq was targeted by a roadside bomb.
Mohaqiq, Afghanistan’s senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that he was the target of the attack but was uninjured.
Police say three Afghan civilians were killed. Six of Mohaqiq's bodyguards were among the 30 or so people injured.
No one immediately claimed responsibility, but Taliban militants had increased their attacks ahead of the security handover.
In November of 2011, Mohaqiq -- together with the ethnic Uzbek commander Abdul Rashid Dostum and the ethnic Tajik politician Ahmad Zia Masud -- created a political party called Jabha-e Milli-e Afghanistan, or National Front of Afghanistan.
Dostum's militia members were reportedly involved in a gunbattle
this week when his forces attacked the home of the governor of a northern province.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan