Demonstrations in Afghanistan protesting the burning of the Koran at a U.S. base intensified for a fourth day yesterday even after repeated American apologies for the mistreatment of the Islamic holy book.
The Afghan Ministry of Interior reported that nine protesters were killed and 16 demonstrators and 12 Afghan National Police were wounded yesterday in stone-throwing and exchanges of gunfire in 13 of the country’s 34 provinces.
Herat province in western Afghanistan had the highest death toll, with six protesters and one policeman killed, the ministry said. In addition, two U.S. soldiers were shot February 23 by a man in an Afghan army uniform, said Ahmed Zia Abdulzai, the government spokesman in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
In Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of northern Baghlan province, one protester was killed and three others were wounded when Afghan police and Hungarian soldiers fired on hundreds of men who besieged the local base of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, said Ahmad Besharat, the provincial police spokesman, in a phone interview.
The violence has raised new questions about the Obama administration’s assertions of progress in Afghanistan and that Afghan government and security forces can maintain stability and defeat the Taliban as the U.S. and its NATO allies withdraw combat forces.
A German defense ministry spokesman said yesterday the protests prompted Germany to withdraw its troops from a small base in northern Takhar province that it had planned to vacate in about a month, the Associated Press reported from Berlin. The troops moved to a larger German base in the nearby province of Kunduz.
President Barack Obama’s apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, expressing regret for damage to the Korans, drew criticism from some Republicans.
“The president apologized for the burning, but I haven’t seen the president demand that the government of Afghanistan apologize for the killing of two young Americans,” Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said yesterday on MSNBC’s Andrew Mitchell Reports.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday that the president thought it was in the best interest of U.S. forces and civilians in Afghanistan to apologize to Karzai.
Taliban leaders issued a statement February 23 urging Afghans to spurn U.S. apologies and step up attacks against Americans.
Karzai has appealed for calm, asking people to await the outcome of the investigation. While an ISAF officer, German Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, told reporters the force hoped to issue an account swiftly on how the incident unfolded, the coalition hasn’t reported results.
The violence is the second time in a year that riots have erupted across Afghanistan over the perceived desecration of the Koran by Americans. The burning of a Koran by a pastor in Florida in March led to four days of riots in which 24 people died, including two U.S. soldiers shot by an Afghan policeman.