Afghan Quran row: US tenders apology; calls incident horrific

Led by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the US has apologised to the people of Afghanistan on the "inappropriate treatment" of the holy Quran by American soldiers at the Bagram Airbase in a central Afghan province.

"We apologise to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms," the White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters at his daily news conference when asked about the incident at the Bagram air base resulting in an outrage in the country.

"This was a deeply unfortunate incident that does not reflect the great respect our military has for the religious practices of the Afghan people," Carney said, adding that the US military leaders have apologised for these "unintentional actions", and ISAF is undertaking an investigation to understand what happened and to ensure that steps are taken so that incidents like this do not happen again.

Expressing regret at the incident, Carney said it does not represent the views of US military, and it certainly does not represent the conduct of its men and women in uniform, or America's general respect for the religious practices and beliefs of the Afghan people.
The White House statement came hours after the Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, offered his personal apology.

"This morning ISAF Commander General John Allen notified me of the deeply unfortunate incident involving the inappropriate treatment of religious materials, including the Quran, at Bagram Airbase," Panetta said in a statement.

"He and I apologise to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms," said the US Defense Secretary, adding that these actions do not represent the views of the United States military.
"We honor and respect the religious practices of the Afghan people, without exception," he said.

Panetta said he supports General Allen's swift and decisive action to investigate this matter jointly with the Afghan government.

"I will carefully review the final results of the investigation to ensure that we take all steps necessary and appropriate so that this never happens again," he said.
The State Department termed it as a "horrific" incident.

The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was briefed about the incident early in the day.
"The desecration of religious articles is not in keeping with the standards of American tolerance, human rights practices and freedom of religion," the State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, said.

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