KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. commander of international troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday ordered an investigation into the improper disposal of a large number of Islamic religious materials, including Qurans, at an American air base north of Kabul.
More than 60 Afghans staged a morning demonstration outside the sprawling military installation to protest what they said was the burning of the Muslim holy books.
"We are thoroughly investigating the incident and are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again," U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, said in a statement. "I assure you, I promise you, this was not intentional in any way."
Allen said he received a report during the night that people working for the military coalition improperly disposed of the religious materials. He did not elaborate.
"When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them," Allen said. "The materials recovered will be properly handled by appropriate religious authorities."
Ahmad Kabir, the chief of Bagram district of Parwan province where the base is located, said the demonstrators were all people who work inside the base and that some claimed they had seen pieces of a Quran that was burned inside the base.
"I haven't seen it myself and we are talking to them and are investigating to see if is true," Kabir said. "The protesters are nervous over these claims of the holy book being burned."
Kabir called for calm.
"We will investigate and we are asking everyone to calm down and relax," he said, adding that the incident was being probed by local Afghan and police officials and the local provincial council.
Police said a similar protest on Tuesday just east of Kabul ended peacefully.