WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2012 — The rioting and killings that have followed the accidental burning of Qurans by coalition personnel will not change the NATO strategy in Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are fully committed to continuing operations aimed at turning over security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, Little said.
Panetta and Dempsey “believe we have achieved significant progress in reversing the Taliban’s momentum and in developing the Afghan security forces, and they believe that the fundamentals of our strategy remain sound,” Little said in a Pentagon news conference, joined by Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby, who spoke to the Pentagon press corps from the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Afghans rioted following the revelation that NATO forces inadvertently burned Islamic religious articles, including Qurans. Four Americans have been killed, including two officers serving as advisors in the Afghan interior ministry in Kabul.
It is important that the recent events not blind people to the progress being made in the country, Little said. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, in partnership with Afghan national security forces, is making progress in defeating al-Qaida and its terrorist allies and denying them the ability to maintain a safe haven in Afghanistan, he added.
Afghan rioting is decreasing, with only three demonstrations held today, Kirby said, noting that ISAF leaders have joined with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in urging calm and an end to violent protests.
“We appreciate the steps President Karzai is taking to quell violence in the country, and we commend the hard work and sacrifice of the Afghan security forces who have suffered casualties attempting to quell the violence,” Little said. “We respect the right of all Afghans to peaceful protest, but further bloodshed serves neither the coalition nor the Afghan people, who are themselves falling victim to violence.”
Little said the relationship between ISAF forces and their Afghan partners remains strong, pointing out that U.S. forces work with 330,000 Afghan security forces to defend the country. “Together, they fight in very difficult situations, building trust and mutual respect despite recent incidents,” the press secretary said.
The spirit of American, coalition and Afghan forces will be tested throughout the campaign in Afghanistan, Little said. “Anyone who believes they can weaken our resolve through these cowardly attacks is severely mistaken,” he added.
The coalition will emerge from the challenges stronger and more unified, Little said. “There is much at stake in Afghanistan, and our commitment to our mission and our strategy will not waver,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)