Commentary: Sad state of affairs in Afghanistan

Feb. 28, 2012 at 1:56 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Violent repercussions in Afghanistan over the inadvertent burning of the Koran by U.S. troops are clearly out of hand.

Two U.S. military advisers were killed at their desks at the Afghan Ministry of Interior in Kabul, four other NATO troops were wounded in a suicide bombing outside a U.S.-NATO base in Jalalabad and an Afghan worker at a NATO facility reportedly tried to poison troops in the dining hall.

Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators have clashed with Afghan security forces protecting NATO bases in the country, resulting in more than two dozen deaths.

"It is out of hand and it needs to stop," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared.

Her comment came after apologies were tendered by U.S. President Barak Obama and the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Marines Gen. John Allen.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for calm and an investigation -- as well as prosecution of those responsible for burning the Muslim holy book.

The outrage by Afghans is understandable. The Koran is the word of God to Muslims and features prominently in their daily lives, from daily prayers to their relations with others. Reverence for the Koran is one of the few unifying factors in a land fractured by tribe, clan and politics.

But the wave of hysterical mob violence over the incident and retribution attacks also gives pause to those who are sacrificing lives and treasure to not only defeat terrorism in Afghanistan but also to mentor one of the world's most undeveloped (in every sense of the word) countries into a more "modern" age.

International agencies have reportedly withdrawn personnel from parts of the country because of the current wave of anti-foreigner violence and International Security Assistance Forces are looking over their shoulders at their Afghan comrades.

In Iraq, incidents in which Iraqi troops and police turned on U.S. mentors and comrades were few. This is a more frequent occurrence in Afghanistan.

Trust and cooperation, vital to fighting the war and to helping Afghans gain the skills to do so by themselves, are being eroded.

While lamenting the state of relations in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has made it clear it intends to remain on course -- combat troops will be mostly withdrawn in 2014.

"We work alongside thousands of Afghans every single day to ensure a better future for the Afghan people. And nothing that has happened over the past week is going to deter us from that goal," said George Little, the Pentagon spokesman.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker warned it isn't the time to talk about a faster withdrawal from the country.

Maybe so, but as Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney noted, it sticks in the throat to hear those you are trying to defend calling for your death and the death of your loved ones.

The anger and violence against U.S. and NATO personnel in Afghanistan over the past week my just be a hiccup, albeit a big one, in U.S.-Afghan relations. The Taliban are willing to exploit it to buttress their anti-foreigner, radical Islamic message.

So will Islamists elsewhere in the world.

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