NATO recalls staff amid fresh Afghan violence
Afghan policemen run to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Quran desecration in Kabul. Two protesters were killed and seven US troops were wounded yesterday. AFP photoNATO and the British government have recalled international advisers from Afghan ministries, after two U.S. military advisers were found dead in their office. The Afghan president has renewed his calls for calm following the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base, which has sparked five days of deadly protests.
“Now is the time to return to calm and not let our enemies use this situation,” Hamid Karzai said. Asked about the unprecedented recall of NATO staff, Karzai said it was understandable. “It is a temporary step at a time when the people of Afghanistan are angry over the burning of the holy Quran. We are not against this.”
NATO pulled all its staff out of Afghan government ministries on Feb. 25, after two of its advisors in the interior ministry were shot dead. Britain also said its embassy was temporarily withdrawing all civilian mentors and advisors from Afghan government institutions in Kabul.
It is still unclear who shot the men inside a heavily secured wing of the Interior Ministry, or if the attacker had been apprehended. The Afghan media reported that it was a police intelligence officer, without citing a source. Karzai said much was still unknown.
“Who did this, and whether he is an Afghan or a foreigner, we do not know. We are saddened by the incident and express our condolences to the families of the victims,” he said. The Taliban has claimed that the shooter was one of their sympathizers, and that an accomplice had helped him get into the compound to kill the Americans in retaliation for the Quran burnings.
Protests cool down
The Pentagon decried the incident as “unacceptable” and called on Afghan authorities to better protect coalition forces and curtail the raging violence. “This act is unacceptable and the United States condemns it in the strongest possible terms,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s spokesman George Little.
Members of the international military coalition described the removal of advisers as a temporary security measure, stressing that they did not expect it to affect partnerships with the Afghans, who are key in preparing the country’s security forces to take on more responsibility as international troops draw down.
Karzai’s appeal came as the protests appeared to be dying down of their own accord. There were no reports of violent demonstrations as of midday yesterday. It would be the first day of calm since Feb. 21, when it first emerged that Qurans and other religious materials had been thrown into a fire pit used to burn garbage at Bagram Air Field, a large U.S. base north of Kabul. Protests raged in five different Afghan provinces Feb. 25. In an assault on the U.N. compound in Kunduz, five people were killed and 66 wounded, including 11 police, putting the death toll at around 30. U.S. President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have apologized for what they said was a mistake, but their regrets did not quell the protests.