ReutersKABUL (Reuters) — A senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologized Wednesday for a “highly offensive” leaflet containing a Koran passage used in the Taliban militants’ banner superimposed onto the image of a dog.
The Taliban said the leaflet showed American hatred of Islam, adding that it had launched a suicide attack near the entrance to the U.S. Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul, in revenge.
The image, distributed by U.S. forces in Parwan province, north of Kabul, on Tuesday, showed a section of the Taliban’s banner superimposed onto the side of a dog — an animal considered unclean by Muslims. The banner contains a passage from the Koran in Arabic.
“The design of the leaflets mistakenly contained an image highly offensive to both Muslims and the religion of Islam,” Maj. Gen. James Linder said in a statement.
“I sincerely apologize. We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners worldwide,” he said, adding that an investigation would be held “to determine the cause of this incident and to hold the responsible party accountable.”
Parwan Governor Mohammad Hasem condemned the leaflet as “unforgivable.”
“Those who have committed this unforgivable mistake in the publicity, propaganda or media section of the coalition forces will be tried and punished,” he said.
The incident highlights one of the challenges facing international forces in Afghanistan, most of which are from non-Muslim cultures, despite the efforts Western forces have generally taken to avoid stoking anti-foreigner sentiment.
The risk of a backlash against international forces has grown more pronounced with a rise in civilian casualties caused by increased U.S. and Afghan government airstrikes since the beginning of the year.
The Taliban, fighting to restore strict Islamic rule to Afghanistan and drive out foreign forces, issued a statement saying the leaflet made clear “that this war is a war between Islam and unbelief.”