Protesters turned violent in response to an unconfirmed story that NATO troops had destroyed Islam's holy book.
Afghan men gather as some throw rocks towards the U.S. military base during a protest in Bagram / Reuters
The violent protests that erupted in Afghanistan on Tuesday amid reports that American forces burned copies of the Koran are the latest in a series of self-induced wounds for the NATO alliance. The current phase of the long and unpopular war appears to be following a grimly predictable pattern. When there seems to be a smidgeon of good news, NATO troops commit a public relations blunder to overshadow it.
Late last year, for example, National Journal reported that American war deaths in Afghanistan -- steadily increasing for more than five years -- were trending lower in 2011 than the year before. That positive trend was forgotten weeks later when a video showing American Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters hit the Internet. For civilians however, 2011 was the worst year yet _ 3,021 killed, compared to 2,777 the year before, according to the United Nations.
The Taliban's recent opening of a political office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar sparked optimism that the U.S. and the armed group might soon begin substantive talks as Western involvement in Afghanistan winds down. Administration officials, speaking privately, said it was the clearest indication to date of the Taliban's potential willingness to come to the negotiating table.
Now that news is swept aside by NATO's announcement of a formal investigation into reports that American troops burned copies of the Koran, Islam's holy book. Thousands of Afghans protested outside the gates of the American base where the books were allegedly set on fire, with some of the rioters throwing petrol bombs at the facility. The military ultimately fired flares to dissipate the crowd.