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Afghan Violence Continues Over Quran Burning


And let's go next to Afghanistan, where a car bomb exploded outside a U.S. air base today. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack which killed nine people. This latest wave of violence follows reports of American soldiers burning several copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

U.S. officials say the Qurans were burned because detainees were using them to spread radical messages, and President Obama apologized for what he called an accident. But the violent demonstrations and response have led to questions about whether this incident could even affect the pace of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

We're going to talk about this with NPR's Quil Lawrence. He's on the line from Kabul.

Hi, Quil.


INSKEEP: There have been so many developments, let's just run through them here. We had the Quran burnings, the news got out. What happen after that? Just walk us through the last several days.

LAWRENCE: It took about a day for the news to get out across Afghanistan and then for the five days after that there were riots across the country in almost every major city. Clashes with police, dozens of demonstrators ended up dead. On Thursday at one of these demonstrations, two American soldiers were shot by an Afghan soldier who then escaped into the crowd. There were more demonstrations on Friday and then Saturday there was another murder of two American officers inside the Afghan Interior Ministry, perhaps one of the safest places in Kabul, most heavily secured places in Kabul. Their killer is also still at large.

INSKEEP: Which is maybe the most shocking of all these incidents. Who's responsible?

LAWRENCE: Well, Afghan authorities have named a police intelligence officer who'd been on the force for two years. They said he just got his license to carry a pistol inside the secure area. It's possible that he had spent some time in Pakistan, but that's not unusual at all for Afghans. He is still at large. He's being sought in this case. The larger consequences are much bigger. After this happened, the Americans and the French and the British pulled all of their advisors - this is hundreds of military advisors and technical experts to every ministry in the Afghan government - and they have now been pulled out because it's considered unsafe. So it sort of poses a question that if the U.S. here is transitioning to an advisory role but can't even go and advise Afghans inside the safest part of Kabul, outside of maybe the president's palace, then what can they do? The Afghan defense minister and interior minister have canceled their trip to Washington. The U.S. embassy here is on lockdown, even more so than their usual limited contact with the Afghan population.

INSKEEP: Well, that then raises another question, Quil Lawrence. Is it possible that the U.S. military might not even hang on there for two more years, which is the current plan?

LAWRENCE: There's a lot of chat about that and questions. There was already some discussion that they would transition a little bit faster than had previously been expected, that by 2013 they would be doing just a mentoring and training role. But even now the question is, will they be able to mentor and train? I think the Wall Street Journal reported today that 10 of the 58 coalition deaths in action this year, 10 of them, they were killed by Afghan soldiers who turned their weapons on the men who were supposed to be training them.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about the leading Afghan. You mentioned that maybe the last safe place in Afghanistan or relatively safe place in Afghanistan might be the presidential palace. What is President Hamid Karzai saying about all this?

LAWRENCE: He finally came on television and appealed for calm yesterday, assured the Afghan people that the soldiers who burned the Qurans would be brought to justice. He mentioned several things about peace talks with the Taliban. What he didn't say was anything about these murders inside the Afghan interior ministry, until he was asked by a reporter. And then he expressed his condolences and speculated that it might have been another Westerner who did these murders, and this is when the Afghan police had already named an Afghan suspect. So that hasn't gone down very well with military, American military diplomats here, who are wondering if it's safe for them to go out and meet their Afghan counterparts.

INSKEEP: NPR's Quil Lawrence is in Kabul. Quil, thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.