A series of avoidable mistakes led to the burning of Quran copies at a US base in Afghanistan, and at least five US military personnel involved may face a disciplinary hearing over the issue, a leaked report on the incident shows.
One Western official, speaking to the Associated Press news agency on condition of anonymity, said that the joint investigation by senior Afghan and US military officials has determined that there was no intent to desecrate the Muslim holy book.
The February 20 incident led to a series of deadly riots across the country, killing at least 30 Afghans. Six US soldiers were also shot and killed by Afghan security forces or Taliban fighters disguised in their uniforms following the incident.
The event brought relations between the US-led NATO force and the Afghan government to an all-time low, and an Afghan committee investigating the incident has rejected apologies from the US, saying that those responsible must be tried publicly in Afghanistan.
The Western official, who has knowledge of the investigation, said it could lead to a disciplinary review of the US personnel involved.
Full details of the incident are expected to be included in a joint Afghan-US inquiry that is still under legal review by the military. Its release date is unclear. A more formal US military investigation is still weeks away from completion.
If any action is taken against American troops involved, it would come under the US military justice system, officials with the international coalition have said in earlier statements.
The incident occurred almost two weeks ago, when books and other Islamic texts at the Parwan Detention Facility were removed after US military officials said inmates were using them to pass messages.
After the writings were discovered, two Afghan-American interpreters went through materials at the facility's library. They flagged up 1,652 items for removal.
The items, which included the Quran copies, were reportedly placed in boxes and the Western official confirmed that a decision was taken to dispose of them, because of a lack of storage space and because of the notes scribbled in them.
Other reports, however, indicated that the books were mistakenly marked for disposal.
A group of soldiers, who were reportedly unaware of the contents of the boxes, then removed them to throw them away at the burn pit at the adjoining Bagram Air Field.
Afghan workers then realised what was being burned and tried to extinguish the flames, with some burning their fingers trying to salvage the books.
Afghan government officials said initial reports indicated four Quran texts were burned.
Afghanistan's senior religious leaders demanded on Friday that those involved in the incident be put on public trial and punished.
In a statement issued after they presented the findings of their investigation into the burning to President Hamid Karzai, they strongly condemned the incident and blamed it on the administration of the detention facility.
"This is an unforgivable act. It's inhumane," they said, adding that it was "certainly not going to be forgiven by apologies, the responsible parties should be prosecuted in an open trial and they should be punished".
They also called on the US to end night searches and to hand over prisons to Afghan control. The religious leaders said the books would never have been burned if Afghan officials had been in charge of the facility.
Control over detainees and night raids are the two most contentious issues in a strategic partnership document that the US and Afghanistan are currently negotiating.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|