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Quran burning report a window on growing Afghan-on-US violence

A record number of US military personnel have been killed by Afghan security forces this year. A report on Quran burnings at a US base in Afghanistan points to a lack of cultural sensitivity, which could be driving broader Afghan anger.  

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Afghan protesters burn a US flag during a protest in Jalalabad Province over the burning of Qurans on a US military base in Afghanistan in this Feb. 24 file photo.

Parwiz/REUTERS/File

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The findings released Monday of a Pentagon investigation into February’s burnings of Qurans by US soldiers in Afghanistan could hardly have been more timely. They come out at the end of the worst month for killings of US forces by their Afghan counterparts of the 11-year war.

The investigation offers a sobering picture of the kind of distrust and cultural misunderstanding between US and Afghan forces that, in the case of the Quran burnings, led to deadly riots in Afghanistan. More generally, it helps to explain the growing number of so-called “green-on-blue” incidents, in which Afghan soldiers and police turn on their US and coalition counterparts.

Twelve US military personnel have been killed by Afghan soldiers or police this month, bringing the number of coalition forces killed in such incidents this year to more than 40 – the deadliest for such incidents of the war.

In the report, Army Brig. Gen. Bryan Watson says he is convinced that US soldiers who oversaw the incineration that included as many as 100 Qurans did not act with “malicious intent” designed “to defame the faith of Islam.” But the report castigates US military officers and senior enlisted personnel in charge at the US prison at Bagram air base where the burning took place.

He also says that US soldiers disregarded an Afghan officer and an interpreter who tried to tell them that burning the Quran would be viewed by Afghans as a desecration of Islam’s holiest text. “That US service members did not heed the warnings of their [Afghan] partners is, perhaps, my biggest concern,” General Watson writes.

The Army announced that six soldiers would receive administrative punishment for their roles in the incineration.

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