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Massacre at UN Outpost in Afghanistan Responded to US Pastor Burning Koran

Marcy already noted the terrible killing of at least 10 UN staff members in Mazar-i-Sahrif, Afghanistan, after wingnut pastor Terry Jones burned Korans in Florida. The subsequent Afghan protest turned deadly.

The attack began when hundreds of demonstrators, some of them armed, poured out of mosques after Friday Prayer and headed to the headquarters of the United Nations in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. They disarmed the guards and overran the compound, according to Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, spokesman for Gen. Daoud Daoud, the Afghan National Police commander for northern Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Kieran Dwyer, said the attack had occurred during a demonstration. “We can confirm there have been casualties, including U.N. personnel, but the situation on the ground remains very confusing,” he said.

This happened after Jones held a trial for the Koran, found it “guilty,” and burned it. Unlike last year, when the high profile of Jones led to him backing down, he carried this off without the same publicity. But it had a horrific result in Afghanistan.

Reporting from Kabul, Una Moore, an international development specialist, writes about how this attack differs from previous ones:

Foreigners have been killed in Afghanistan before, and today’s attack was not the first fatal attack on UN staff. But it was different than previous fatal attacks. Very different. The killers were ordinary residents of a city deemed peaceful enough to be one of the first places transferred to the control of Afghan security forces. The men who broke into the UN compound, set fires and killed 8 people weren’t Taliban, or henchmen of a brutal warlord, or members of a criminal gang. They weren’t even armed when the protests began –they took weapons from the UN guards who were their first victims.

Foreigners committed to assisting in the rebuilding of Afghanistan have long accepted the possibility that they might die at the hands of warring parties, but this degree of violence from ordinary citizens is not something most of us factored into our decision to work here.

These were not Taliban infiltrators, according to Moore, but locals organized by clerics, inspired by a distortion of events (residents were told hundreds of Korans were burned, rather than just one). Moore concludes, “Unless we, the internationals, want our guards to fire on unarmed protestors from now on, the day has come for us to leave Afghanistan.”

Incidentally, in an insurgent attack near the border with Pakistan today, six US soldiers died. This was in Kunar province, site of much violence over the past several years. It will be overshadowed by this UN assault.

Aside from actions having consequences, this is a powerful example of the dangers of foreign occupation. Provocations can lead the local populations to turn on not only the occupiers, but the NGOs and UN officials trying to keep the peace and help the villagers. The entire mission needs to be rethought in this context.

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David Dayen

David Dayen