Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said today he does not regret the apologies he and President Obama issued for the Koran burning incident, arguing that the move -- rare for a U.S. commander in chief -- was the right thing to do and that it had saved American lives.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Allen dismissed criticism in the U.S. over the apologies.
"Why wouldn't we [apologize]?" the general asked. "This is the central word of God for them. Why wouldn't we? We didn't do it on purpose but we should apologize and we did."
Watch "World News" tonight for more of ABC News' interview with Gen. John Allen.
In late February, troops at Bagram Air Field, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan, burned Korans and other religious materials after the books were mistakenly thrown out with the trash and put on a burn pile.
Allen quickly released a written apology and a video statement. He then gave an interview to NATO television.
As word spread, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside of Bagram and on the outskirts of Kabul. Some shot into the air, some threw rocks at the Bagram gate and others yelled: "Die, die foreigners." Six U.S. service members were killed.
Obama also apologized for the incident, prompting criticism from although the action was criticized by some in the U.S., including the GOP president candidates. Newt Gingrich who called it "an outrage," while Rick Santorum said it showed "weakness," and Mitt Romney said the apology was "something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance."
Allen said today that he thought the apology had saved U.S. lives and that it had helped the U.S. and Afghanistan to move beyond the incident.
"There is a relationship here in this country at a personal level that most people don't have any understanding of," Allen told ABC News. "That relationship can withstand shocks from time to time. ... The apologies were sincere and the people recognized it."
He reiterated today that although the U.S. was pushing forward with an investigation of the incident, he did not believe the burning was intentional.
"I don't think for a second that anyone intended to defame the religious publications or the Koran or anyone sought to desecrate the faith," he said. "I don't believe that for a second."
"We're just going to push on with the investigation... You fix things that are broken and you hold people accountable," Allen said. "That's why you do investigations and we're headed in that direction."
The general said that he hoped the violence over the burning Koran incident had ceased.
"We think that the strength of the relationship will carry us through this," he said. "I think that we want to move on and I think the people want to move on so we'll see."
ABC News' Enjoli Francis contributed to this story from New York.