By Jeremy Herb - 02/21/12 03:15 PM EST
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologized Tuesday for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. air base, which prompted more than 2,000 protesters to descend on the base in protest.
Gen. John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan, said the burning of the Qurans was unintentional, and he apologized to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people.
"We are thoroughly investigating the incident, and we are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again,” Allen said in a televised message. “I assure you, I promise you, this was not intentional in any way, and I offer my sincere apologies for any offense this may have caused.”
Allen said that ISAF forces at Bagram had “improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials, including Qurans.”
“When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them,” Allen said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement Tuesday he apologized to the Afghan people and disapproved of the conduct “in the strongest possible terms.”
“These actions do not represent the views of the United States military,” Panetta said. “We honor and respect the religious practices of the Afghan people, without exception.
“I support General Allen's swift and decisive action to investigate this matter jointly with the Afghan government,” he said. “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.”
Ahmad Zaki Zahed, chief of the provincial council, told the AP that U.S. officials showed him a burn pit where 60 to 70 books, including Qurans, had been recovered.
He said that the books were used by Afghans detained at the base.
A Florida pastor who burned Qurans sparked deadly protests last year in Afghanistan.
— This story was updated at 11:27 a.m.