An Afghan demonstrator holds a copy of a half-burnt Quran, allegedly set on fire by U.S. soldiers, at the gate of Bagram Air Base
Photo by Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images.
UPDATE: A Taliban suicide car bomber killed at least 9 and injured 12 others in an attack at a military airport in eastern Afghanistan on Monday. No NATO forces are reported among the casualties.
The BBC reports that the Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack as a retaliatory move for the accidental burning of several copies of the Quran by NATO personnel, saying that the bombing was "revenge." NATO officials have said the burning of the Muslim holy books was unintentional, but many in Afghanistan do not seem ready to forgive. The ensuing protests across the country have killed more than 30 people and injured many more.
The Taliban also claimed to be behind poisoning the food at Forward Operating Base Torkham, also as revenge. Although the food was contaminated at that base, likely by chlorine bleach in the coffee and fruit supply, CNN reports, the poison was discovered before anyone ate the food.
Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai has asked for an end to the violent protests, which continued to escalate over the weekend. After condemning the Quran burnings, Karzai said, "now that we have shown our feelings it is time to be calm and peaceful," according to the BBC.
Sunday, Feb. 26: Protesters threw grenades at a NATO base in northern Afghanistan Sunday, injuring seven U.S. military trainers as riots over Quran burnings by American troops continued to rage for a sixth day. Two Afghans were killed as protesters clashed with police and troops, reports the Associated Press.
Meanwhile Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said one of its employees, a 25-year-old police intelligence officer, is suspected of killing two senior U.S. officers inside the ministry Saturday, reports Reuters. The New York Times, however, hears word that the main suspect was an Afghan who had worked for more than a year in the ministry as a driver. So far, the protests have killed 30 people, including four U.S. troops, and wounded 200.
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum continued criticizing President Obama for issuing an apology for the burning of Qurans at a NATO air base at Bagram, north of Kabul. Santorum insisted Obama displayed “weakness” by issuing an apology, saying that he should have merely acknowledged that burning the Quran was wrong, reports the AP.
Saturday, Feb. 25: Two Americans were shot dead inside Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry building in Kabul Saturday. They are believed to be a U.S. colonel and a major, reports Reuters. The Associated Press says the two victims were military advisers. Initial reports claimed the shooter was another Westerner, but a NATO spokesman quickly denied that: “Initial reports say it was not a Western shooter.”
The suspect is still at large and the situation is far from clear. The Taliban quickly released a statement claiming responsibility for the killings, “saying the shooter was an insurgent infiltrator in the Afghans’ security forces,” reports the Washington Post. The statement added that the killings were in retaliation for the Quran burnings. At least 27 people have been killed since Tuesday, when news of the “inadvertent” Quran burning was first reported.
The AP, however, hears from two Afghan officials that the shooting did not involve any Afghans. In fact, one of the AP sources said the shootings took place “inside a secure room at the ministry that Afghan staff do not have access to.” But the Wall Street Journal says the U.S. service members were killed “during a clash with an Afghan police officer.”
All NATO personnel have been recalled from all Afghan ministry buildings.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets again Saturday and attacked government and U.N. offices, according to the New York Times. Five protesters were killed, including four who were shot by Afghan police when they attacked a U.N. compound in the northern Kunduz province.
The Washington Post takes a look at how President Obama’s apology to his Afghan counterpart over the Quran burning has become an issue on the campaign trail as Republicans have used it as a Exhibit A to call the president a weak commander in chief. Yet most of the criticism has been largely confined to those seeking the GOP nomination as other conservatives contend the move was important to maintain cordial relations with the Afgahn government.
Friday, Feb. 24: Twelve more people died in Afghanistan on Friday as crowds demonstrating against the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base turned violent again, Reuters reports.
After Friday noon prayers—the central part of the week for Muslim religious practice—the demonstrations intensified. U.S. officials continue to apologize for the burning of the holy books, but many in Afghanistan don't seem ready to forgive any time soon what, for in their eyes, was a severe act of blasphemy.
Thursday, Feb 23: Two NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan Thursday as protests following the "inadvertent" burning of Qurans and other Muslim holy books at a U.S. military base intensified. Eleven people in all have died, with many more wounded, in the protests, Reuters reports.
President Obama, according to the Associated Press, has sent a letter of apology to the Afghan president for the Quran burnings. The letter, delivered by the U.S. ambassador Thursday, expresses Obama's "deep regret for the reported incident."
"The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible," the president wrote.
According to NATO, the two coalition troops were killed in the eastern part of the country by a man wearing an Afghan military uniform. NATO isn't confirming or denying that the deaths had any relationship to the protests.
Wednesday, Feb 22: At least five people have died, and at least 20 more are injured, in Afghanistan during protests following news that a U.S. air base "inadvertently" threw copies of the Quran into an incinerator.
The commander of the U.S. and NATO troops apologized for the improper disposal of the holy books. The incinerated copies of the Quran and other Muslim holy books had been confiscated from a library at a nearby detention center because officials believed Taliban prisoners were passing messages to each other using the books. Local laborers then found the burnt remains of the books, the BBC reports.
According to CNN, American officials expect the protests to intensify. A U.S. warden message explains that "past demonstrations in Afghanistan have escalated into violent attacks on Western targets of opportunity." When Florida pastor Terry Jones burned a Quran in the spring of 2011, protesters in Afghanistan killed 12 people after storming a U.N. office. Another 12 protesters were killed in other demonstrations across the country.
Tuesday, Feb 21: More than 2,000 angry Afghans rallied outside of a U.S. air force base on Tuesday after learning that Muslim holy books, including copies of the Quran, had been burned in a pile of garbage outside the Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.
Looking to quell the uproar, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan quickly issued an apology for what he said was an unintentional mistake, admitting that military personnel had "improperly disposed" of the books and promising a full investigation, the New York Times reports.
"When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them. The materials recovered will be properly handled by appropriate religious authorities," General John Allen said. "We are thoroughly investigating the incident and are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again. I assure you, I promise you, this was not intentional in any way."
The angry crowd is said to have chanted "Death to America" and "Die, die, foreigners," in addition to some protesters singing Taliban songs, throwing rocks and firing rifles into the air. The uproar highlights general Afghan sentiment that the U.S. intervention over the past decade has not respected Afghan and Islamic culture.
The Associated Press reports that a NATO official who wished to remain anonymous said that the Muslim holy books had been removed from a library at a nearby detention center because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions that were being used by detainees to fuel hatred.