At least a dozen people have been killed in riots that have broken out in Afghanistan over the inadvertent burning of several Korans by US soldiers at a prison complex outside of Kabul. Among the dead are two US soldiers, shot by an Afghan soldier at the US base near Kaja. President Barack Obama wrote a letter to President Karzai extending his “sincere apologies” for the incident, adding, “We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.” For all its obsequious efforts, analysts agree that profuse apologies issued from every level of the Obama administration have done nothing to temper the outbreak of violence in the country. Some believe apologies may even inflame the situation more.
Karzai and several members of parliament have called on NATO to put the soldiers on trial. Meanwhile, following the attack on the Americans by the uniformed Afghan soldier, the Taliban called on Afghan soldiers to fire on the “infidel invaders.”
Many analysts support the president’s response, but believe it will do little or no good. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the apology was “appropriate given the sensitivity” of the matter. But GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich disagreed, saying on a campaign swing through Washington state that “there seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama’s attention in a negative way and he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States period.” He also said that it should be President Karzai doing the apologizing for the killing of US military personnel by a member of his armed forces. He added that if Karzai doesn’t say he’s sorry for the murders, “then we should say goodbye and good luck, we don’t need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money on somebody who doesn’t care.”
If it were only Obama doing the apologizing, that would make sense. As Commander-in-Chief, the president is responsible for the safety of the troops and even though humbling the US in this way is not easy to accept, with 100,000 or more troops still in Afghanistan, each and every one of them would become a target for any Afghan with a gun unless the president made some effort to placate the people and government of Afghanistan. And guns are common in Afghan households.
But the rash of apologies issued by US officials — including a missive by American and NATO Commander General John Allen and a statement of regret by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta — “don’t seem to have any effect,” said Nina Shea of the conservative Hudson Institute. She said the additional apologies “just feeds the sense of grievance” of the protesters. Another analyst, Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, said that the serial apologies only help the Taliban. “They will use that to again flame their own fire,” he said. “The more they apologize, the more it’s going to inflame them.”
Shaffer also called the burning of the Korans “stupid.” Valuable intelligence may have been lost if there were indeed messages from extremists written in the texts.
Perhaps the incident was best summed up in the Lebanese English language Daily Star:
It’s one of those puzzling cases in which one doesn’t know which is worse: If the Americans knew what they were doing, it is a disaster, and if they were this careless and didn’t know what they were doing, it is also a disaster.
General Allen has promised that troops will receive additional training in the “proper handling of religious materials.” An investigation by the military is underway to determine why the Korans ended up in the burn bin in the first place.