WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today joined the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan in apologizing to the Afghan people for the reported inappropriate treatment of religious materials, including copies of the Quran, at Bagram Airfield.
In a written statement, Panetta said Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen had notified him of “the deeply unfortunate incident.”
“He and I apologize to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms,” Panetta said. “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.”
The secretary added that he supports Allen's “swift and decisive action” to investigate the 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.
In a statement issued this morning, Allen said he’d received a report overnight on the improper disposal of Islamic religious materials at Bagram and launched a formal investigation.
“When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them,” he said. “The materials recovered will be properly handled by appropriate religious authorities.”
International Security Assistance Force officials are taking steps “to ensure this does not ever happen again,” Allen said. “I assure you -- I promise you -- this was NOT intentional in any way,” he added.
Allen offered his personal apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan government, “and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan.”
“I would like to thank the local Afghan people who helped us identify the error, and who worked with us to immediately take corrective action,” Allen said.