Video: Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologizes for Koran-burning

Is this S.O.P.? There’s been plenty of cultural friction in Afghanistan over the past decade but offhand I can’t recall a U.S. general going so far as to cut a video begging forgiveness of the locals for an offense — not even after the clip of Marines urinating on dead Taliban made the rounds worldwide last month. Either Gen. Allen remembered what happened the last time Afghans went berserk over a Koran-burning and wanted to do everything he could to prevent a reprise — too late, although at least no one’s been killed yet — or he (or his superiors) calculated that this incident could threaten those perpetually on-again-off-again peace talks with the Taliban.

It was indeed apparently an accident:

According to Afghan workers who witnessed the events, around 10 or 11 p.m. on Monday a dump truck escorted by a military vehicle drove up to the landfill at Bagram Air Base, where 20 or so Afghans work. Two uniformed NATO personnel, a man and a woman, began unloading bags of books from the back of the truck and throwing them into a pit for incineration. NATO officials said it was not yet clear if the two people were troops or civilians. Some civilians also wear military uniforms and can easily be mistaken for soldiers. The Afghan workers described the pair as Americans.

Accounts from some of the workers at the landfill suggested that the two people were oblivious to the significance of what they were doing. They made no attempt to hide the books, instead appearing to be routinely carrying out their duties.

“When we saw these soldiers burning books, we moved closer to see what was going on, and one of the boys said, ‘It is Holy Koran,’ ” said one of the laborers, Zabiullah, 22. “And we attacked them with our yellow helmets, and tried to stop them. We rushed towards them, and we threw our helmets at the vehicles.”…

The two NATO personnel drew back, but two bags of books they had already thrown into the pit had begun to burn.

On the one hand, it’s hard to believe that after 10 years NATO workers wouldn’t know that lighting up a Koran in Kabul means a guaranteed rampage. On the other hand, if they’re young Americans, the concept may be so foreign to them that they didn’t think twice. Back home, the only group that rampages when a Koran is burned is the media.

As for why they were disposing of the Korans, it was because they wanted to … avoid a jihadist rampage:

A military official says Muslim holy books that were burned in a pile of garbage at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan had been removed from a library at a nearby detention center because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions.

A military official with knowledge of the incident told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it appeared the Qurans (Korans) and other Islamic readings were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees apparently were leaving notes for one another inside them.

Said one Afghan employee at Bagram of the local hysteria, “Whoever goes back to work will be killed. They’ll think of us as traitors.” Exit question: The decision to pull out a year early is looking better every day, huh?