KABUL, Afghanistan Feb. 24, 2012 -- At least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded today as protests over the burning of Korans at a NATO base escalated, with the violence spreading into neighboring Pakistan.
Thousands of angry Afghans took to the street in Khost, Herat and Nangahar chanting "death to America" and burning effigies of President Obama. Protesters In Baghland attempted to storm a U.S. military base, destroying part of a security fence before police began shooting into the air to disperse the crowd.
The fresh wave of violence comes less than a day after Obama apologized for the Koran burning, which he said was a regrettable and unintentional error, and after an assailant dressed in an Afghan National Police uniform killed two U.S. soldiers.
In an attempt to calm rising tensions, the commander of ISAF and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, made a surprise visit – and an impassioned plea – to troops at the military base where the two US servicemen were based.
"This is not the time for vengeance," he told a large gathering of U.S. and NATO troops. "Now is the time to look deep inside your souls, remember your mission, remember your discipline, remember who you are. We'll come through this together as a unit."
Following his speech, Afghanistan's top military commander, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, echoed the same sentiments, vowing that the troops had sacrificed their lives "for humanity, not just the Afghan people."
Despite strong statements from both the top U.S. and Afghan commanders, today's violence took a sharp, dangerous twist as the protests spread into neighboring Pakistan. Radical and religious parties sponsored demonstrations in all four of Pakistan's provinces, with protests in Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Quetta, and Islamabad.
Today marks the fourth consecutive day that Afghans have taken to the streets to protest what they believe was a deliberate desecration by U.S. troops of the Koran, Islam's holy book.
Earlier this week, Afghan workers at a U.S. military base discovered a number of Korans had been placed in an incinerator for disposal. Upon making the discovery, the workers burned their fingers and hands to retrieve the remaining pages, some of which were later used as rallying symbols during subsequent protests.
The U.S. military has maintained the disposal in such a manner was not intentional, and has ordered mandatory sensitivity training for its forces, to be completed within two weeks.