WASHINGTON – U.S. troops tried to burn about 500 copies of the Quran as part of a badly bungled security sweep at an Afghan prison in February, despite repeated warnings from Afghan soldiers that they were making a colossal mistake, according to a U.S. military investigative report released Monday.
The number of copies of the Muslim holy book that were taken to the incinerator at Bagram air base was far greater than U.S. military officials earlier acknowledged in their accounts of an act of desecration that triggered riots across Afghanistan. The incident is also thought to have played at least a partial role in an ensuing increase in attacks against NATO troops by Afghan soldiers and police.
Despite demands from Afghan officials that the American troops be placed on trial over the Quran burnings, U.S. military officials decided against filing criminal charges. Instead, the Army announced that it had taken less-serious disciplinary action against six soldiers for what they described as unintentional – if costly – mistakes.
The investigation, however, cited evidence of a jarring lack of religious awareness and cultural training among the U.S. troops. The report said that before their deployment to Afghanistan, the troops were exposed only to about an hourlong PowerPoint presentation about Islam. Although they were generally aware that the Quran was a holy text, the report said, they were ignorant of the extreme cultural offense their mishandling of it could cause.
The Army did not release the names of the six soldiers because they received only unspecified administrative punishments and did not face criminal charges. A Navy sailor also was investigated, but officials said disciplinary measures were dropped in that case.
Meanwhile, in another case of offensive behavior in the war zone, the Marine Corps said Monday that it disciplined – but stopped short of filing criminal charges against – three noncommissioned officers for their involvement in an incident last year in which Marines videotaped themselves urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.