WASHINGTON — The US military has no plans to alter its troop drawdown timetable in Afghanistan despite a week of deadly unrest over the burning of the Koran at an American base, the Pentagon said Monday.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and top US military officer General Martin Dempsey both “believe that the fundamentals of our strategy remain sound,” spokesman George Little told reporters.
The United States will stick to its plan for a gradual troop drawdown and has an “unwavering” commitment to hand over to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 as agreed by the NATO alliance, Little said.
Attacks on US and coalition troops and violent protests were “regrettable” but had not jeopardized “strong” ties between American and Afghan forces, he said.
“We’re not going to let the events of the past week, which are regrettable and unfortunate and tragic, influence the long-horizon view that we’re taking with respect to our partnership with Afghanistan and to our enduring work there,” Little said.
Another military spokesman, Captain John Kirby, acknowledged tensions had flared over the burning of the Islamic holy book at the Bagram airbase and after two US officers were gunned down inside the interior ministry.
But he said the scale of protests had begun to decline and that US troops were still operating successfully alongside Afghan forces.
“These events — they’re troubling, they’re worrisome, they’ve got everybody’s attention. And yes, tension is high here in Kabul right now,” Kirby said by video link from the Afghan capital.
“But across the country writ large… the mission continues and we’re seeing the protest activity decline.”
The United States has repeatedly apologized for the Koran burning at an incinerator and insisted it was a mistake and not intentional.
The incident has set off seven successive days of protest and violence, with the death toll estimated at about 40.
The United Nations announced that it was pulling its international staff out of their base in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz after it came under attack Saturday by demonstrators.
The commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, US General John Allen, withdrew all staff out of Afghan ministries at the weekend when two US advisers were shot dead in the interior ministry, apparently by an Afghan colleague.
There had been no decision yet on when coalition advisers would return to their posts at government offices, Kirby said.
Allen “is not ready right now to have the advisers go back,” he said. “But this is temporary.”
The general had advised his commanders to be “vigilant” given recent events but “he also made it clear that operations must continue,” Kirby said.