Seven U.S. soldiers wounded by grenade during Afghanistan protest

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 26, 2012 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Seven U.S. soldiers were wounded Sunday when an insurgent threw a grenade into their base in the northeastern province of Kunduz, local officials said.

The attack took place during a protest in the Imam Sahib district against the burning last week of copies of the Quran and other religious material by U.S. military personnel at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.

The burnings have led to a weeklong series of demonstrations across Afghanistan. Clashes between protesters and Afghan security forces have left at least 28 dead and more than 100 injured.

Sunday's attack took place after a large crowd attacked a police station, throwing stones at officers before marching on the U.S. base, said Samiullah Qatra, the police chief of Kunduz. Qatra said a Taliban insurgent in the crowd threw the grenade that injured the seven Americans, whom he described as trainers.

Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, the police spokesman for Kunduz province, told McClatchy that the injured U.S. personnel were special forces soldiers involved in training Afghan local police.

Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, confirmed there was an explosion outside an International Security Assistance Force base in northern Afghanistan. He refused to say if there had been casualties.

The attack at Kunduz came a day after two American officers were shot dead inside an Afghan Interior Ministry compound in Kabul. U.S. Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, ordered ISAF personnel removed from government ministries in and around the capital.

The killings have renewed concern in the U.S.-led coalition about the reliability of Afghan security forces, which will assume control of Afghanistan when coalition combat troops leave by the end of 2014.

They follow other similar incidents, including the killing of four French soldiers in Kapisa province last month, which prompted France to announce its combat forces would leave Afghanistan by the end of 2013 — a year earlier than scheduled.

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, told CNN on Sunday that the killing of the two American officers was "a terrible event," but he said the U.S. remained "committed to a partnership with the Afghan government and people as we seek to achieve our shared goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaida and strengthening the Afghan state."

The violence in the wake of the Quran burnings and the increased mistrust between international forces and the Afghan population they are here to defend has also raised questions about the viability of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, prompting speculation that the withdrawal of American and international troops may be accelerated.

Crocker agreed the situation in Afghanistan was difficult. "But this is not the time to decide we're done here," he said. "We've got to redouble our efforts."

He defended the decision to withdraw all ISAF military advisers from Afghan government ministries — seen by some as further evidence of a breakdown in trust between coalition forces and their Afghan counterparts — as a prudent step.

"Tensions are running very high here," said Crocker, "and I think that we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business."

Details about the killing of the American officers have yet to be confirmed. An Afghan Interior Ministry statement said Sunday that the suspect was a ministry employee who was now on the run, while the Taliban on Saturday claimed responsibility for the attack.

ISAF spokesman Jacobson said it was too early to say whether the killings at the Interior Ministry were linked to the burning of Qurans at Bagram. He said ISAF was still awaiting answers about the attacker's identity and motive, and how the shooter had gained entry to such a high-security area.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a media conference Sunday renewed his call for Afghans protesting the Quran burnings to avoid violence and await the results of an investigation he has ordered into the incident.

"The Afghan government is discussing with American authorities the trial and punishment of the perpetrators," said Karzai.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2012

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