Graham Bowley and Jawad Sukhanyar – New York Times February 25, 2012
As deadly violence spilled into a fifth day in Afghanistan on Saturday, two American soldiers were shot dead inside the Afghan Interior Ministry building, a senior Afghan official said.
NATO and the Interior Ministry confirmed the shooting deaths, but gave no details about the nationalities of the victims or the circumstances of the attack. But a senior Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, said the two were Americans. Some American personnel work within Afghan ministries as mentors and advisors, particularly on military operations.
The shootings came on another tense day in the country as thousands of Afghans incensed by the American military’s burning of Korans once again took to the streets. Clashes with the police claimed another five lives, officials said, while many more were wounded.
Chanting anti-American slogans calling for an end to NATO’s presence, the protesters also attacked offices of the Afghan government and the United Nations, leading to violent standoffs.
Officials said that five protesters were killed on Saturday, including four who were shot by Afghan police after a large crowd attacked the United Nations headquarters in Kunduz Province in the north, wrecking public buildings and stores. The shootings left another 51 wounded, hospital officials said.
In the east, 2,000 protesters, mainly young students from one of the main high schools, stormed the governor’s residence in Laghman Province, and 21 Afghans were injured when the police opened fire. Laghman Province, a normally peaceful region, saw protests earlier and was the scene of NATO air attacks on insurgents on Thursday, when NATO seized heavy machine-guns and other firearms.
Saturday’s deaths added on to 24 people already reported killed since Tuesday, when reports first emerged about the Korans.
NATO said that it was still investigating what led to the decision to burn Korans and other religious texts. Early reports said that the books had inflammatory messages written in them from detained Taliban suspects. Most of the Korans that were rescued from the flames are still at Bagram Air Base in a locked container. They are viewed as evidence, a NATO spokesman said. A few of the Korans were taken out of the base by Afghan employees.
An apology by President Obama on Thursday failed to keep thousands off the streets in Kabul and around the country. In light of that apology, which was attacked by Republican critics, the United States postponed plans to apologize to the Pakistani government for the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers last November at a border base, in order to avoid further political fallout in an election year, a Defense Department official said.
Elsewhere, The Associated Press, citing the Afghan Defense Ministry, reported that six Afghan soldiers were killed and 16 others were wounded when they tried to defuse a bomb. The incident occurred in Mukar district of Badghis Province in the west.