Nato can overcome Koran protests 'setback' - commander

General John Allen and US ambassador Ryan Crocker on the burning of Korans in Afghanistan

Recent protests sparked by the burning of the Koran by US soldiers were a "setback", Nato's commander in Afghanistan has told the BBC.

However, Gen Allen said Nato's co-operation with Afghan security services would continue.

At least 30 people died in the protests, including four US soldiers.

Gen Allen said he would be willing to walk unarmed into the Afghan interior ministry, where two Nato military advisors were shot dead on Saturday.

Their killer is believed to have been an Afghan police intelligence officer.

Gen Allen's comments were echoed by the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who told the BBC that there had been no "permanent rupture" in relations with Afghanistan.

Timeline: Koran anger

  • 20 Feb: Korans found by labourers on Bagram air base amid piles of rubbish reportedly sent to be burned
  • 21 Feb: Nato and the US apologise and officials say it was not intentional, but anger escalates
  • 22 Feb: Six killed in protests around the country
  • 23 Feb: US President Barack Obama apologises; two US soldiers are among eight people killed in violent protests
  • 24 Feb: Deadliest single day of protests as 12 people are killed
  • 25 Feb: Two Nato officers shot dead by a policeman in the interior ministry; US withdraws staff from ministries
  • 26 Feb: Other Nato nations withdraw staff from ministries
  • 27 Feb: Nine killed in a car bomb attack at Jalalabad airport

Gen Allen said he was "not surprised in the least" at the reaction to the Koran burning.

US personnel apparently inadvertently put the books, which reports say had been confiscated from terror suspects, into a rubbish incinerator at Bagram air base, near Kabul.

Muslims consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each copy with the utmost respect.

"We have to understand the significance of the great faith of Islam to these people and we have to account for that," he said.

"But it doesn't push the relationship back," he said.

Gen Allen emphasised that over the 10 years of Nato's presence in Afghanistan, "thousands and thousands" of troops had shown "reverence" for the Islamic faith.

Asked whether those responsible for the Koran burning would be punished, Gen Allen replied: "Let's finish the investigation first."

"Should I deem it appropriate I'll recommend the appropriate disciplinary action but I'm not going to prejudge the investigation," he added.

Meanwhile, Afghan authorities are still hunting a 25-year-old Afghan policeman believed to have shot dead two senior Nato officers at the interior ministry in Kabul on Saturday.

Afghan officials named the suspect as a police intelligence officer, Abdul Saboor, from Parwan province.

The US, Britain, France and Germany have now withdrawn civilian staff from Afghan institutions. It is unclear how long the withdrawal will last.

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