A U.S. military investigation shows that five service members may have been responsible for the accidental burning of Qurans at a NATO base in Afghanistan last week which led to the killing of six American troops and over 30 Afghan demonstrators.
The probe launched by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John R. Allen, is still underway, but five soldiers were involved in the incident, NBC News reported Friday.
It appears that the soldiers will not face criminal charges, anonymous military officials were quoted as saying. The troops may face non-judicial punishment, which could be as simple as a reprimand.
The investigation found that the five service members, whose names were not disclosed, discovered the Qurans containing extremist messages from a prison at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, according to The Washington Post. They removed the books and placed them in an office for safekeeping. The books were then mistaken for garbage and taken to a landfill on the base on Feb. 20.
After Afghan laborers found charred copies of the Qurans while collecting rubbish at the base, a week of violent demonstrations against Western forces followed. At least 30 Afghan protesters and six U.S. service members were killed in it.
President Barack Obama apologized for the unintentional incineration of Qurans last week. Afghan President Hamid Karzai also called for peaceful resolution of the issue, but added that those responsible must be punished.
It is unlikely that the report of the U.S. military investigation, due to be released in the next few days, will pacify Afghan clerics. It will likely be made public after the report of a separate but similar investigation jointly conducted by the Afghan government and the U.S.
Afghanistan's senior religious leaders have said that an apology alone will not do. They want the responsible troops to be put on a public trial. Anti-West forces in that country are also using the issue to demand that the U.S.-led NATO coalition hand over control of military prisons to the Afghan government.
Republicans charge that Obama has mishandled the situation by apologizing and "appeasing" Muslims. "There was nothing deliberately done wrong here," presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said during an interview with ABC's "This Week" show last Sunday. "This was something that happened as a mistake. Killing Americans in uniform is not a mistake. It was something that deliberate."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said Obama's apology amounts to appeasement. "There doesn't seem to be any request for an apology from Karzai," he told Fox News.