US soldiers ignored warnings by Afghan colleagues not to burn Korans
McClatchy-Tribune in Washington
In the most detailed account of an incident that triggered deadly riots across Afghanistan, a Pentagon probe revealed how hundreds of Korans were hurled into an incinerator by US soldiers who ignored repeated urging by Afghan colleagues not to do so.
US Army Brigadier General Bryan Watson, who conducted the probe, sharply criticised US military officers and senior enlisted personnel at the prison where the incident occurred in February, and outlined how mistakes in the US command and distrust between American and Afghan soldiers led to what he called a tragic incident.
"US service members made the decision to segregate, remove and burn the books and own the responsibility for their destruction," Watson said in a report. "That US service members did not heed the warnings of their [Afghan] partners is, perhaps, my biggest concern."
The report confirms for the first time that 474 Korans were taken to a burn pit, far more than previously known. Watson said up to 100 were consumed in the flames.
But Watson also concluded that US soldiers at the prison, adjoining Bagram air base north of Kabul, did not act with "any malicious intent to disrespect" the Koran "or to defame the faith of Islam".
News of what many Afghans considered a severe crime, rather than a mistake, sparked days of riots and attacks on US troops. More than 30 people were killed, including six Americans.
In addition to releasing the report, the army said that six US soldiers - four officers and two enlisted personnel - had received "administrative" punishment for their roles in the case.
The decision means that no US soldier will face criminal charges or be court-martialled in connection with the Koran burning.
The Pentagon also outlined discipline in another high-profile case.
Officials said three marines, whose names were not disclosed, were given "non-judicial punishment" for a video that came to light in January showing members of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment urinating on dead insurgents last year.
The Koran burning began when US military police and an army counter-intelligence unit were convinced that Afghan prisoners were using books from the prison library to pass messages.
An interpreter who overheard US soldiers discuss burning the books warned an officer in the counter-intelligence unit that it would desecrate Islam's holiest book.
Later, an Afghan officer warned US soldiers loading the books into a truck that the pile included Korans.