The NATO forces who burned Korans at a major U.S. base in Afghanistan received cultural training that included an explanation of the importance of the holy Koran in Afghan life, an alliance spokesman says.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a NATO spokesman in Afghanistan, told DOTMIL that "for sure" Western troops from all alliance member nations receive "cultural awareness" training "prior to deployment."
That training, however, was not enough to stop some NATO troops earlier this week from setting ablaze copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, at Bagram air base. The incident drew the immediate ire of Afghans, who have launched mass protests across the country. The Pentagon said Thursday one enraged Afghan army soldier turned his gun on two NATO soldiers, killing both.
The incident drew a rare apology from a U.S. president, with President Barack Obama sending a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressing "my deep regret" for the Koran burning.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said Wednesday the incident was a mistake. "Emotions go very high but I think over time people realize that it wasn't willful, purposeful," Dempsey said in Florida, according to news reports. "It wasn't intended in anyway to be an act of malice toward a particular religion or its practices." U.S. military commanders have said the books contained extremist views, and were mistakenly tapped for destruction.
At least one large protest is planned in the war-torn nation's capital, Kabul, on Friday. The U.S. embassy there has warned all Americans to "shelter in place and avoid any unnecessary movement," noting past protests have spawned attacks on Western targets.
The NATO command in charge of the decade-old war effort "has been coordinating closely with Afghan officials and religious figures during the last few days," Cummings says. "And we appreciate President Karzai call for self restraint amongst the Afghan people."