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NH delegation disagree on future in Afghanistan

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 27. 2012 10:47PM

MANCHESTER - A local Islamic leader denounced the violence in Afghanistan, saying Tuesday that outrage over the burning of the Koran by U.S. troops is no justification for what has happened over the last week.

More than 30 people have died, including two U.S. officers who were shot at close range inside the Interior Ministry on Saturday, and at least 200 wounded. The uprisings that followed the burning of the Koran at a U.S. military base near Kabul in what officials have described as a mistake.

Saghir Tahir, a board member for the Islamic Society of Greater Manchester, said local Muslims are accepting the explanation and in no way condone the reaction in Afghanistan.

'We're not angels. We are human beings,' said Tahir, a former representative in the state Legislature. 'It's a bad thing. It happened, but there's always a way out for everything in the world. Forgiveness is always better than revenge and this is the feeling of the (local) community.'

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that U.S. military officials were investigating the destruction of copies of the Koran and other Islamic books and literature said to have been used by prisoners for 'clandestine communications.'

President Barack Obama apologized for the burned copies of the Muslim holy book, saying it was not intentional. But the apology has done little to alleviate the outrage.

On Monday a suicide bomber crashed the gates of a NATO base and airport, killing nine Afghans and wounding at least 23 others people, including four NATO soldiers. The Taliban took credit for the attack.

Tahir, who is from Pakistan, said Afghanis already resented the U.S. presence in their country and the charred copies of the Koran discovered by workers cleaning up at the base only stirred up the underlying tension.

'I have been saying consistently, the people of Afghanistan, they have been fighting for the last 200 years and they've got nothing to show for it,' Tahir said. 'They have not tolerated any outsiders. They look at Americans as outsiders.'

Members of New Hampshire's congressional delegation expressed concern over the safety of American troops in Afghanistan in light of the recent violence, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described as 'out of hand and it needs to stop.'

'As I have said before, it's time we reduce our presence in Afghanistan,' said U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, R-NH. 'Having visited the country several months ago, I have serious concerns about our present mission there.'

Rep. Frank Guinta, also a Republican, criticized Obama for apologizing, saying it would have been better to have come from the ranking officer at the base rather than the commander-in-chief.

Guinta said the wave of attacks over the past few days demonstrate that the apology has had little or no effect on preventing attacks on Americans.

'I encourage our commanders to take additional precautions to make sure all American military and civilian personnel remain safe,' Guinta said.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte condemned the attacks and disagreed with Bass' assertion that it is time to reduce America's presence in the war torn country.

'If we leave Afghanistan prematurely, we face the very real risk that it will once again be used as a safe haven for those who want to attack America and our allies,' Ayotte said.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire's only Democrat in Congress, said the recent attacks demonstrate the 'volatile and dangerous situation that our troops face on a daily basis in Afghanistan.'

'We should continue to evaluate our force protection measures in the area,' she said. 'However, recent developments do not change the fact that the United States still has serious national security interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Obama administration will not swerve from plans to move into an advisory role in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said on Monday,

'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,' Defense Department spokesman George Little told reporters at the Pentagon. 'There is absolutely no reason to change course when we're making the kind of progress we're making.'

Reuters contributed to this article.

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