x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Afghan president calls for calm over Quran burning protests

Two protesters die in demonstrations and seven US troops were wounded in a grenade attack.

A US Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Sergeant Joshua Born of Niceville, Florida, upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Saturday. The 25-year-old was shot dead by an Afghan soldier during a riot on Thursday over the burning of Qurans.
A US Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Sergeant Joshua Born of Niceville, Florida, upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Saturday. The 25-year-old was shot dead by an Afghan soldier during a riot on Thursday over the burning of Qurans.

KABUL // Afghanistan's president yesterday pleaded for calm in a televised address to the nation after the burning of Qurans at a US base sparked days of deadly protests that have killed dozens, including US soldiers.

Two protesters died in demonstrations and seven US troops were wounded in a grenade attack on their base today in northern Afghanistan, a day after two US military advisers - a lieutenant-colonel and a major - were executed by an Afghan colleague inside the heavily guarded interior ministry compound.

All advisers from the Nato-led force have been recalled to barracks.

"Now is the time to return to calm and not let our enemies use this situation," Mr Karzai said in his address. Asked about the recall of Nato mission staff from ministries, Mr Karzai said it was understandable.

"It is a temporary step at a time when the people of Afghanistan are angry over the burning of the holy Quran," Mr Karzai said. "We are not against this," he added.

Mr Karzai "condemned with the strongest words" the treatment of Islam's holy book and said the perpetrators should be punished, but told his countrymen: "Now that we have shown our feelings it is time to be calm and peaceful." He said he respected the emotions of Afghans upset by the Quran burning.

The Taliban has called for revenge attacks for the burnings, after Afghan soldiers discovered American colleagues burning Qurans at a rubbish dump at Bagram, the main US air base in the country.

More than 30 people, including four US soldiers have died in the uproar over the burning of Qurans, The two soldiers killed yesterday were found in their secure office, shot in the back of the head.

"There is a suspect who is an employee of the interior ministry. He has been identified. Right now the police are trying to arrest him. He is on the run," the ministry said in a statement, citing initial findings by investigators.

The other two US soldiers were also shot dead by an Afghan colleague.

The US president, Barack Obama, has apologised for the burning of the Qurans and other religious material, which the Pentagon has said was a mistake.

Members of the international military coalition described the removal of advisers as a temporary security measure, stressing they did not expect it to affect partnerships with the Afghans who are key to preparing the country's security forces to take on more responsibility as international troops draw down over the next two years.

The Nato recall affects advisers numbered "in the low hundreds," said Lieutenant-Colonel Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the international force.

The US government had already ordered its government advisers to stay inside the secure embassy compound in the week out of fear of retribution over the burnings, said Gavin Sundwall, a US Embassy spokesman.

Saturday's shootings at the interior ministry were the latest in a rising number of incidents where Afghan soldiers or policemen, or gunmen wearing their uniforms, have killed Nato-led forces.

Last month, France suspended its training programme and threatened to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan a year ahead of schedule after an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French soldiers on a base in the east.

A recent study found more than 60 foreign soldiers had been killed by their Afghan colleagues between May 2007 and last May.

A leaked classified coalition report said last month that they "reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat".