QARA BAGH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of demonstrators rallied near the Afghan capital on Tuesday to denounce a propaganda leaflet drop by U.S. forces last week that caused widespread offence and forced American commanders to issue an apology.
The leaflet drop near Bagram Air Field, one of the biggest U.S. bases in Afghanistan, was intended to encourage people to report insurgents to the authorities and depicted a lion chasing a dog, symbolising the Taliban.
However it prompted widespread outrage as the picture of the dog, considered an unclean animal in Islam, incorporated a profession of faith from the Quran that forms part of the Taliban flag.
“The Americans have insulted Muslims through this action and their beliefs and we will not sit quietly by,” said Mir Rahman, a protester at the rally in Qarabagh district near Bagram. “If the Americans and NATO continue to insult Islam, they will face the same fate that the Russians faced in Afghanistan.”
U.S. commanders apologised for the leaflet and promised to hold those responsible to account but the affair has caused severe embarrassment at a time of heightened sensitivity over the separate issue of civilian casualties caused by air strikes.
While the NATO-led Resolute Support coalition has generally taken pains to avoid cultural insensitivities, there have been several other examples where international forces, most of which come from non-Muslim cultures, have caused offence.
In a previous incident in 2012, when copies of the Quran were mistakenly burned, a number of people died in the following protests. So far, demonstrations have been on a much smaller scale but some protesters said they might continue.
“Apologies on their own will never cure any wound,” said Mehrabuddin, another protester, who like many Afghans, goes by one name. “If the Americans repeat such an insult in future we will keep up our demonstrations and, if needed, attack Bagram base,” he said.
Last week, the Taliban, seeking to establish Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, claimed a suicide attack near the entrance to Bagram which it said had been launched in retaliation against the leaflets.
Reporting by Qiamuddin Shams; writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie