Quran Incident Inquiry Results Forthcoming, ISAF Official Says

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2012 — Coali­tion mem­bers are work­ing with Afghan lead­ers to quick­ly and ful­ly inves­ti­gate the “grave mis­take” that yes­ter­day end­ed in par­tial­ly burned Qurans at the Par­wan deten­tion facil­i­ty near Bagram, Afghanistan, an Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force spokesman said today.

Speak­ing from the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul in a tele­con­fer­ence with Pen­ta­gon reporters, Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacob­son of the Ger­man army said it’s of the utmost impor­tance that offi­cials “explain very, very clear­ly what hap­pened, explain how sor­ry we are about what hap­pened, explain that this was a mis­take, explain what led to it, and talk about the con­se­quences.”

Afghan gov­ern­ment and reli­gious lead­ers are inves­ti­gat­ing the cir­cum­stances behind the inci­dent along with ISAF rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Jacob­son said, and the results of that inquiry could be avail­able with­in hours.

The inad­ver­tent des­e­cra­tion of the Islam­ic holy book kin­dled protest demon­stra­tions that began with a 2,000-person dis­tur­bance out­side the deten­tion facil­i­ty yes­ter­day, and con­tin­ued today with at least four more protests, fea­tur­ing 200 to 500 demon­stra­tors each, around Kab­ul, Jacob­son said. News reports count the death toll from the protests at sev­en, though Jacob­son said no vio­lence has been specif­i­cal­ly direct­ed against ISAF troops.

Jacob­son said the Qurans were mis­tak­en­ly includ­ed in a mass of mate­r­i­al deliv­ered to the deten­tion facility’s burn pit for rou­tine dis­pos­al. Local work­ers at the facil­i­ty noticed the books and pulled them from the fire, he added.

“Mate­r­i­al was inad­ver­tent­ly giv­en to troops for burn­ing,” Jacob­son said. “The deci­sion to burn this mate­r­i­al had noth­ing to do with it being reli­gious in nature or relat­ed to Islam. It was a mis­take. It was an error.”

Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, ISAF com­man­der, quick­ly ordered an inves­ti­ga­tion to dis­cov­er how and why the mis­take hap­pened, the spokesman said.

ISAF has com­plete respect for Islam and the rev­er­ence in which the Quran is held,” Jacob­son said. “We are very seri­ous about mak­ing cer­tain … that if some­one failed to fol­low our rules, they will be held account­able.”

All 50 coali­tion mem­ber nations require their troops to take part in cul­tur­al train­ing before and after deploy­ing to Afghanistan, he not­ed. While such train­ing has been effec­tive over­all, the spokesman said, Allen ordered yes­ter­day that all coali­tion forces in Afghanistan will com­plete train­ing in the prop­er han­dling of reli­gious mate­r­i­al no lat­er than March 3.

“The train­ing will include the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of reli­gious mate­ri­als, their sig­nif­i­cance, cor­rect han­dling and stor­age,” Jacob­son said.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta and Allen each issued state­ments yes­ter­day apol­o­giz­ing for the event.

Jacob­son repeat­ed those sen­ti­ments today.

“Gen­er­al Allen and ISAF, again, give sin­cere apolo­gies for any offense that this may have caused to the pres­i­dent of Afghanistan, the gov­ern­ment of the Islam­ic Repub­lic of Afghanistan and, most impor­tant­ly, to the noble peo­ple of Afghanistan,” he said.

Jacob­son said he can’t con­firm news reports that the Qurans may have con­tained writ­ing by detainees using the books as a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with each oth­er. “We haven’t got any proof of that yet, and that is a vital part of the inves­ti­ga­tion that is ongo­ing,” he said.

All mate­r­i­al recov­ered at the burn pit was turned over to Islam­ic author­i­ties, he not­ed, reit­er­at­ing that Afghan offi­cials are tak­ing part in the inves­ti­ga­tion. Find­ings from that inquiry should deter­mine exact­ly what mate­r­i­al was involved, who gave the orders to dis­pose of it, how it got to the burn pit, and what actu­al­ly hap­pened when it got there, Jacob­son said.

“We have to be very care­ful in what we do, what we say, what we look at,” he added. “This is a very sen­si­tive sub­ject, and we have to be exact­ly clear on what was found, what was the rea­son for deci­sions that were tak­en, and it has to be done togeth­er with the Afghans.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)