x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Obama apologises to Afghan president as violent protests continue

Two Nato soldiers are killed by a man in an Afghanistan army uniform, as the Taliban urges retaliation for Quran burning at the Bagram airbase.

Afghan protesters in Kabul shout anti-US slogans during a demonstration against a Quran burning at a Nato airbase in Bagram.
Afghan protesters in Kabul shout anti-US slogans during a demonstration against a Quran burning at a Nato airbase in Bagram.

WASHINGTON // US President Barack Obama sent a letter to Afghanistan's president yesterday apologising for the burning of copies of the Quran at a US military base in Afghanistan, the White House said.

Mr Obama told Hamid Karzai that the incident, which has sparked angry protests against US and Nato forces, was not intentional.

The letter, which the White House said was a follow-up to a phone call earlier this week between the two leaders to discuss a long-term partnership between Washington and Kabul, was delivered to Mr Karzai by US Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

"In the letter ... the president also expressed our regret and apologies over the incident in which religious materials were unintentionally mishandled at Bagram Airbase," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

The Taliban urged Afghans to target foreign military bases and kill Westerners in retaliation for the Quran burning on Tuesday.

Nato confirmed a man in an Afghan army uniform killed two of its troops yesterday, but declined to say if the shooting was connected to the protests.

The US government and the American commander of Nato-led forces in Afghanistan had already apologised for the burnings after Afghan labourers found charred copies of the Quran while collecting rubbish at Bagram.

Protests against the burning drew thousands of angry Afghans to the streets, chanting "Death to America!" for the third consecutive day of violence that has killed 11 people and wounded many more.

The Taliban urged Afghans to target foreign military bases and kill Westerners, later directing its plea to the security forces, calling on them to "turn their guns on the foreign infidel invaders," it said on its website.

In a demonstration in Nangarhar province yesterday, an Afghan soldier turned his gun on Nato soldiers, local officials and western military sources said. A provincial spokesman said the soldier then escaped.

Nato confirmed a man in Afghan army uniform killed two of its troops in the east, but declined to say if the shooting was connected to the protests.

A protest of about 500 people turned violent in Kabul, with gunfire crackling as police and plain-clothed intelligence officers charged demonstrators wearing bandannas and hurling rocks and sticks. Security forces fired low above the protesters' heads and sent them fleeing.

Masked men sped by on a motorcycle blasting a battle song played by the Taliban insurgency, while police in machine gun-mounted pick-up trucks picked up the wounded.

"Our brave people must target the military bases of the invaders, their military convoys and their invader forces," read an emailed Taliban statement released by the insurgency's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

"They have to kill them [Westerners], beat them and capture them to give them a lesson to never dare desecrate the holy Quran again."

Most Westerners were already confined to their heavily fortified compounds, including within the US embassy complex and nearby embassies in Kabul.

About 400 protesters hurled rocks and set fire to cars at a Norwegian-led military base in Faryab province on the Turkmen border, which houses about 500 soldiers and civilians from Norway, Latvia, Macedonia, Iceland and the United States.

Norway's ambassador to Kabul, Tore Hattrem, told Reuters no one was hurt and there was minimal damage.

A small number of protesters in the eastern Kapisa province took aim at the French military base there, though police drove them off, its police chief Abdul Hamid said.

The venting of fury could complicate efforts by US and Nato forces to reach agreement with the Afghan government on a pact that would allow a reduced number of Western troops to stay in the country well beyond their combat exit deadline.