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ISAF promises to get to the bottom of Quran row

The incident of the burning of Quran by US soldiers at the Bagram air base has sparked violent protests in Afghanistan.

Updated: Feb 23, 2012, 10:54 AM IST

Washington: The US-led international forces in Afghanistan on Wednesday vowed to get to the bottom of the row over the reported burning of copies of Quran at the Bagram airbase, and said those found responsible for the desecration would be held accountable, even as protests flared nationwide.

Terming the incident as a "mistake" and an "error", ISAF spokesman Brig Gen Cartsen Jacobson told Pentagon reporters via a video news conference from Kabul that the decision to burn the material had nothing to do with it being religious in nature or related to Islam.

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

"This incident was completely unintentional. Material was inadvertently given to troops for burning," he said. He said an Afghan delegation had joined the investigation into the episode at Bagram, and they would look into questions like why was the particular material selected to be destroyed.

"We are deeply concerned about the possibility that Qurans or religious materials were damaged in this incident, and we will get to the bottom of what actually happened," he noted.

ISAF Commander General Allen, he said, has issued a new directive that all coalition forces in Afghanistan will complete training in the proper handling of religious material no later than March 03.

"The training will include the identification of religious materials, their significance, correct handling and storage," he said. "General Allen and ISAF, again, give sincere apologies for any offence 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," Jacobson said.

Responding to questions, Jacobson said ISAF has not come through any evidence that Qurans were used by prisoners to pass on extremist messages among themselves.

"We haven`t got any proof of that yet, and that is a vital part of the investigation that is ongoing. We want to make sure that this is as open as possible.”

"That`s why the material was handed to Islamic authorities straightaway after the incident occurred, and why an Afghan delegation was taking part in the investigation that we had this afternoon," he said.

"It was just material that was driven from the soldiers` point for destruction. The workers immediately interfered; pulled material out, pulled material out that was partly charred. And we have seen Qurans that were partly charred," he said.