Archive for September 8, 2010
NATO Training General on Planned Book Burning
The deputy commander of NATO’s Training Mission in Afghanistan says the planned mass burning of Korans outside a Florida church would place U.S. soldiers and civilians working in Afghanistan “in jeopardy.”
“First of all, it’s insulting, to me and my counterparts here” says U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gary Patton, noting that there are 136,000 Muslims in the Afghan National Security Forces (Army and police).
The general is in charge of training Afghan recruits to be good soldiers and police officers.
Patton was asked during a Defense bloggers roundtable about the plans by the Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of a small Gainesville, Fla. church, to burn hundreds of copies of the Muslim holy book, as a protest against radical Islam on Sept. 11. Jones has been widely criticized — from the Vatican to the United Nations for sponsoring the public event outside his church. U.S. military and civilian officials say it could endanger the lives of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world and fuel terrorists’ propaganda.
There have already been demonstrations in Afghanistan — where a U.S. military convoy was briefly stoned by protesters — and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.
“Burning the Koran is very offensive to Muslim people,” Patton said, adding that if an actual burning of Korans took place, “I believe it would place the safety of our soldiers and civilians in jeopardy and would make the accomplishment of our mission more difficult.”
During a teleconference from Afghanistan with Defense bloggers, Patton was asked what — if anything — U.S. and NATO officials were doing in Afghanistan to calm the situation, especially among the thousands of armed Afghan soldiers and police.
He said he’s been in talks “with senior leaders” in the Afghan Ministry of Defense and “I believe they are taking the necessary actions to explain this potential predicament to their subordinates throughout the Army and police forces. And they clearly recognize that this is not something that we endorse, support or even desire in the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces.
Earlier, Patton discussed with bloggers the efforts to improve and professionalize the Afghan National Army (ANA) — no mean feat when you consider only 14 percent of recruits are literate and the leading cause of attrition in the ranks is absence without leave or desertion. But in the past week, he said: the ANA graduated 1,326 new soldiers from the Kabul military training center; 850 new non-commissioned officers completed various training programs and 157 officers graduated from the 10-week Mujahideen integration course that seeks to reintegrate former warriors against the Soviet occupation into the ANA.
Patton noted that the National Military Academy of Afghanistan — an Afghan version of West Point located in the capital city, Kabul – only had 300 applicants for spaces in the graduating class of 2009. This year, he says, there were 3,000 applications for the academy’s class of 2014.