WASHINGTON: A US military investigation has decided to discipline American soldiers over two incidents that provoked outrage in Afghanistan early this year, one involving the burning of Noble Qur'an and another over a video depicting Marines urinating on Afghan corpses.
"US service members made the decision to segregate, remove and burn the books and own the responsibility for their destruction," Army Brig. Gen. Bryan G. Watson, who conducted the probe, said in a report released Monday and cited by Los Angeles Times.
"That US service members did not heed the warnings of their [Afghan] partners is, perhaps, my biggest concern."
At least 30 people were killed in five days of violent protests across Afghanistan over the burning of copies of the Noble Qur'an at the Bagram airbase in Kabul last February.
Among those killed were six US soldiers, two of which were shot dead by an Afghan soldier in protest at the burning.
Concluding a lengthy investigation on the issue, the army report confirms that 474 Qur'an were taken to a burn pit, far more than previously known.
Suspecting that prisoners were passing notes through books, US soldiers decided to burn copies of the Qur'an despite receiving warnings from an interpreter and Afghan officers.
"It was common knowledge among the search team members that they were handling religious books among other texts in the library," Watson found.
"A larger crowd of [Afghan soldiers] began to gather," but even so, a US noncommissioned officer ordered the books taken to the burn pit, Watson said.
At the burn pit, US soldiers began throwing books into the flames "without soliciting any Afghan workers to help." After one noticed the Qur'an, the Afghans shut off the incinerator and doused the flames with water.
"The three US service members in the burn pit became frightened by the growing, angry crowd and rapidly departed the area," the report says.
The Army announced that six US soldiers four officers and two enlisted personnel had received "administrative" punishment for their roles in case.
Muslims consider the Qur'an the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.
The Pentagon also announced discipline in another high-profile case involving a video depicting Marines urinating on corpses.
Officials said three Marines, whose names were not disclosed, were given "nonjudicial punishment" for a video that came to light in January showing members of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, urinating on dead Afghans in 2011.
According to a military statement, one Marine was punished for "urinating on the body of a deceased Taliban soldier," another for "wrongfully posing for an unofficial photograph with human casualties" and the third for making a false statement to investigators.
Still, the investigation found no malicious intent to disrespect Islam by those involved.
The military did not disclose precise punishments for the troops but Army and Marine Corps spokesmen said they fell into a category that includes administrative sanctions, like a reduction in rank or forfeiture of pay.
Col. Jonathan Withington, an Army spokesman, said Monday that a senior general whom he refused to identify had decided that administrative punishment was appropriate in the case.
But the administrative punishments fell short of criminal prosecution and it was unclear whether they would satisfy Afghan demands for justice.
The US leads a 130,000-strong military force fighting the Taliban, which were ousted from power in 2001.
Cases of Afghan security forces turning on their Western allies have increased in recent years, with a leaked classified coalition report saying last month that they "reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat".
This year, 2012, has already been disastrous for relations between Afghans and US forces.
In addition to Qur'an burning and urination video, the Los Angeles Times published last April pictures showing US troops with dismembered bodies in Afghanistan in 2010.