US Soldiers Linked to Quran Burnings at Afghan Base to Avoid Charges

The U.S. military is recommending discipline, not criminal charges, for seven U.S. military personnel guilty of accidentally burning Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan in February, subsequently sparking riots throughout the country.

Officials told The Associated Press that the Pentagon had received a classified report on the recommended punishment for the soldiers sometime last week.

Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, approved the report. Other officials in the report have remained anonymous for the time being, as a decision has not been finalized.

One Navy member and as many as six Army members could face nonjudicial disciplinary punishment, which could include a mark on their military record or extra duties.

The soldiers are now being held at Fort Benning, Ga., according to the AP.

The news agency assessed that this choice of punishment proves that the Quran burning in February was in fact a mistake, although the light punishment could further enrage Afghans, many of whom rioted when the accidental burning occurred.

The incident took place on Feb. 20, 2011 at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, when U.S. troops were attempting to dispose of Qurans and other holy texts removed from the Parwan Detention Facility, because they thought political dissidents were exchanging messages via the books.

The soldiers burned the books at the base, located North of Kabul. Muslims working at the base noticed burned pages of the book swirling around the base as the pile of supposed trash continued to burn.

The subsequent riots outside of the military base and throughout Afghanistan resulted in the death of more than 30 people, two of whom were American officers and two others who were NATO officers.

The soldiers involved in throwing the books into the burn pit claimed it was an accident, arguing that they did not know the books were religious texts, and that Afghan workers had initially put the books into bags for burning.

Additionally, President Barack Obama apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the incident, saying in a letter: "The error was inadvertent. I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible."

Several Afghans, however, argued that the incident reflected the U.S.'s insensitive disregard for Afghan customs and religion.

"[American troops] should leave Afghanistan rather than disrespecting our religion, our faith," protester Mohammad Hakim told the AP at the time of the protests.

"They have to leave and if next time they disrespect our religion, we will defend our holy Quran, religion and faith until the last drop of blood has left in our body," he added.