Fury in Afghanistan and other parts of the Muslim world over reports of U.S. troops descerating the Koran is not new. A Newsweek
article in 2005 reported that an American interrogator at Guantanamo
Bay flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. The article was later
retracted, but not before sparking violent protests in Afghanistan,
Pakistan, and Indonesia. At least 16 people were killed.
was more violence last March in response to a Florida pastor publicly
burning copies of the Koran. Those riots left roughly 24 people dead,
including seven United Nations employees killed in what remains the
world body's largest one-day death toll in Afghanistan.
Koran-related anger may now threaten more Afghan troops to turn their
weapons on their American counterparts, a growing trend concerning
American policymakers here and in Afghanistan. Taliban officials are
already exploiting the widespread fury towards the U.S. In a statement
cited by the Associated Press, a Taliban spokesman said destroying the
Korans was an "unforgivable crime" and explicitly encouraged Afghan
soldiers and police officers to "become real sons of the nation" by
killing U.S. and NATO troops.
It's not clear that extremists
within the ranks of the Afghan military need much encouragement to
target their American counterparts. Indeed, the two U.S. soldiers
killed during the protests in Nangarhar Thursday were the latest
additions to a grim tally of so-called "green on green" violence (the
phrase is a reference to the color of the uniforms historically worn by
military personnel) throughout Afghanistan.
This year alone, an
Afghan soldier opened fire at U.S. soldiers playing volleyball at a
base, killing one and wounding several others. Another Afghan soldier
killed four French soldiers less than a week later, prompting Paris to
suspend its training mission in Afghanistan and threaten to accelerate
its withdrawal from the country.
U.S. officials had consistently
argued that such attacks were motivated by financial problems, personal
stress and other prosaic concerns, not ideological affinity with the
Taliban. But that case is increasingly difficult to make as more and
more Western troops die at the hands of their Afghan counterparts.
leaked report prepared last year for the American military command in
Kabul found that Afghan soldiers and police officers attacked Western
troops at least 26 times between May 2007 and May 2011, killing
approximately 58 U.S. and NATO troops. The pace of such attacks has been
steadily increasing since 2009, the report found. The worst single
incident occurred in April 2009, when an Afghan officer killed eight
American troops and one U.S. contractor.
"Lethal altercations are
clearly not rare or isolated; they reflect a rapidly growing systemic
homicide threat (a magnitude of which may be unprecedented between
'allies' in modern military history)," the report said, according to The New York Times,
which obtained a copy. U.S and NATO declarations that the attackers
were motivated by factors other than ideology "seem disingenuous, if not
profoundly intellectually dishonest," the report said.
those attacks took place before the fury unleashed by the Koran
burnings, suggesting that there is already a pool of Afghan troops
pre-disposed to committing acts of violence against Western troops. The
Taliban are calling for more such attacks. Barring something
unforeseen, extremist Afghan troops seem likely to listen.