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Light punishment recommended for troops involved in burning Qurans

By David S. Cloud, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — A military investigation into Quran-burning at a U.S. base in Afghanistan in February is recommending low-level disciplinary action against as many seven U.S. troops involved in mishandling the books, two Pentagon officials said.

One Navy sailor and up to six Army soldiers are facing administrative punishment — the lowest possible reprimand — for their role in the incident, but none is facing court-martial, the officials said.

“The investigation is complete and has been subsequently forwarded to the related services for review and any service-specific actions,” one official said.

The recommended punishments, which could include a letter of reprimand and loss of pay, must be approved by senior officers, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the findings are not final.

Several Qurans and other reading materials were thrown into a burn pit at a U.S.-run prison at Bagram air base after guards discovered that prisoners were transmitting messages to one another in the books.

Afghan workers discovered the smoldering Qurans, setting off one of the most sustained outbreaks of civil unrest in Afghanistan since the start of the war.

Despite an early and emphatic apology by Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, at least half a dozen U.S. troops and dozens of Afghans died in the violence. Even a letter from President Barack Obama did little to quell public passions, and Republican critics pilloried him at home for apologizing for the troops’ actions.

Against that backdrop, a decision to give the troops involved the lightest possible punishment could anger some Afghans but will likely spare Obama further domestic criticism over the Pentagon’s handling of the case.

After the incident, the military issued new rules and briefed units in Afghanistan on proper handling of Qurans.

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