Concerning Those Burned Qu’rans At Bagram Air Base

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

It is easy to lose count of the number of administration officials who have issued groveling, pitiful “apologies” over the burned Qu’rans at Bagram Air Base.  But take note that our apologies aren’t sufficient.  The protests are still active, they are spreading to Pakistan, and Iran wants more – a lot more.  It’s ironic how we see things through Western, secular eyes concerning issues pertaining to religious pre-commitments.  Our apologies are so serious, so heartfelt, so sincere, so sober – and so completely irrelevant to the Muslim world.

Iran wants the officers who made this decision to pay a hefty price.

In a move likely to irk tension between Iran and United States, a top Iranian military commander said on Saturday that nothing short of burning the White House and hanging American military commanders can compensate for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan last week.

“The U.S. has committed such an ugly act and burnt Qurans because of the heavy slap it has been given by Islam,” commander of Iran’s Basij force, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi told the semi-official Fars news agency.

So we punish the officers who made this decision according to Sharia law, we torch the White House, and we completely withdraw from Afghanistan, and then perhaps the Iranian generals will be appeased.

But also take careful note why the copies of the Qu’ran were burned in the first place.

As riots over the accidental improper disposal of the Koran led to seven deaths by Wednesday, two senior NATO military officials stressed that it was because of clandestine communications written into the Korans in the first place that a decision was made to have them destroyed by U.S. troops.

Afghan detainees at Bagram Air Base wrote inside Korans as a method for passing messages to fellow detainees, defacing the holy books in a manner considered blasphemous within Islam, the officials said, speaking to Fox News exclusively.

[ … ]

A second official said that local religious leaders who came to look at the damaged material as part of an investigation into the incident were “shocked by what they saw.”

Pages of the Korans contained many handwritten messages and in some cases printed notes were found inside the books. This official described the messages as “extremist” in nature.

This entire incident has as its root cause the fact that rather than killing the insurgents on the field of battle, we imprisoned them in hopes of rehabilitating them and releasing them to return to productive lives in the service of greater Afghanistan.

Ah.  Those Western ideals at work again.  How sweet.  But in reality, prisons in counterinsurgency are opportunities for rest and relaxation, a chance to be fed and to receive good medical care, and a safe haven to recruit and radicalize other insurgents.

These copies of the Qu’ran should have been burned, but Afghans should never have been involved.  In fact, the prisons, which are currently full to overflowing with radicalized Islamists and criminals soon to be released when the U.S. exits Afghanistan (or sooner if the prisons are turned over to Afghan authorities), should completely go out of business.  We should have been killing these fighters rather than giving them the opportunity to concoct further plans for harm to U.S. troops.

All of this – and more – is why I have recommended that we withdraw from Afghanistan.  We simply don’t have a clue what it takes to win the campaign in this region of the world.  For future campaigns, we should take note yet again that prisons really, really don’t work in counterinsurgency.

As if all of this isn’t enough, we may yet sacrifice the careers of some of the officers in the service of Islam.

NATO officials promised to meet Afghan nation’s demand of bringing to justice, through an open trial, those responsible for the incident and it was agreed that the perpetrators of the crime be brought to justice as soon as possible.

Sad beyond belief.

UPDATE #1: Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for his attention to this.


Night Raids, Prisons, Politics and the Afghanistan Strategy

The Long Term Effects of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

The Great Escape – In Afghanistan!

Because Prisons Work So Well In Counterinsurgency

Afghan Prison An Insurgent Breeding Ground

Prisons Do Not Work In Counterinsurgency

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Jirgas and Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prisons in Counterinsurgency

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  1. On February 26, 2012 at 10:27 pm, Jeffersonian said:

    Say what?? We’re going to prosecute our officers and others for burning goddamn Korans??? Since when did the UCMJ incorporate sharia law?

  2. On February 26, 2012 at 10:51 pm, John Cunningham said:

    a clear solution presents itself–a fighting withdrawal, and carpet bombing of anything that moves. for the future, only punitive expeditions into the Muslim world-kill anything that moves, or that shows up on infrared.

  3. On February 26, 2012 at 11:00 pm, Eran Zamir said:

    Unfortunately, I have to agree. If you had asked me a year ago about what we should do, I would have said that we should stay in Afghanistan, but with a completely new strategy – one designed to wipe out the Taliban and gradually win the hearts of the Afghans to our side, even it it takes years. I believed that this would be in our interest, since we do not want Afghanistan to become a breeding ground for terrorists like it was in the 90s. I did not actually believe that we should to this out of any love for the Afghan people or some such silliness.
    But the past few days has convinced me that we should get out as quickly as possible. We should cut off relations with the inept (and corrupt) Karzai government and withdraw recognition from it. As far as I am concerned, if Karzai is dragged out of his palace and shot in the streets by the Taliban or anyone else, then I would not care in the slightest. As for the Afghan people – if these barbarians actually think that a book is more important than human life, then I say we should let them stew in their barbarity and kill each other for the next thousand years. There is no reason for us to interfere.
    The only other thing I would do is install a few bases in Tajikistan or Turkmenistan or wherever where we can base special ops teams and UAVs so that we can bomb any camps or kill any terrorists that might be hiding out in Afghanistan. But we should make no effort to care about any of the civilians there.
    Some might say that such an approach is heartless, and that we shouldn’t abandon them, especially the women and children who were treated so heartlessly under the Taliban. If that’s such a problem, we can spend money helping Afghan refugees in the neighboring countries, which would certainly be cheaper than our current military commitment there now. But to actively intervene militarily? They don’t deserve it, and will not, until they throw off the shackles of their barbarian, medieval Islamic culture, and who knows when that will be?

  4. On February 26, 2012 at 11:01 pm, Eran Zamir said:

    > We’re going to prosecute our officers and others for burning goddamn Korans???

    I get the distinct feeling Obama will not do that, because he is savvy enough to realize that if he did that, he would lose the election.

  5. On February 26, 2012 at 11:10 pm, JeremyR said:

    Trying to nation build was a horrible mistake. GWB knew that while he was running for president, I wish he had remembered it after 9/11

  6. On February 26, 2012 at 11:28 pm, Why said:

    Publish a real name and e-mail address and you can repost your comment. Use of fake identities isn’t allowed.

  7. On February 27, 2012 at 1:45 am, Micha Elyi said:

    Remember the Coulter Prescription of September 12, 2001? Ann Coulter is such a dear and her advice for dealing with terrorist-harboring Mohammedan countries just gets more and more intelligent with each passing year.

  8. On February 27, 2012 at 6:21 am, egoist said:

    From my armchair, we don’t know how to win wars anymore; they have been heavy on welfare delivery (all of my life).

    I do wonder why we give prisoners cable TV, internet access, phones… and put up with the trouble that it facilitates. I wonder why we give “enemy combatants” (or whatever the term is) qurans.

  9. On February 27, 2012 at 9:06 am, TS Alfabet said:

    There are several, unstated, but extremely important issues underlying the question of involvement in A-stan, all inter-related:

    1) due to cultural issues, political correctness etc.., the U.S. has largely lost its will to wage decisive war, the kind that we last waged in WWII (under Democrat presidents no less) which largely explains the power of insurgencies to linger and metastasize and denies us the kind of victory that allowed Germany and Japan to emerge as true, democratic states (and concomitantly denied A-stan that possibility);

    2) there is a profound lack of leadership at all levels of the U.S. government– White House, State Dept, Pentagon, CIA– that prevents us from forming a comprehensive, strategic vision for our place in the world which would enable us to readily determine our vital interests and the tools most appropriate to accomplish the overall strategy (in short, we are stumbling around from crisis to crisis, reactionary vs pro-active);

    3) this blundering, haphazard approach to foreign policy has severely weakened the American public’s confidence in our ability to shape events in our interest and cultivates this simplistic “screw those foreigners, let’s get the hell out” approach that leaves the U.S. vulnerable by giving us no options and no opportunities to counter the influence of hostile powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China and militant islamists (remember when the U.S. used to be able to covertly influence events– i.e., “The Ugly American”?).

    Bush 43 and Obama have made a real hash out of A-stan and there’s no option that won’t have harmful effects on the U.S. If I had to pick the least bad, I would take a realistic view and see that the American people simply won’t support the resources needed to keep propping up the Karzai regime (“regime” due to fraudulent election), so we need to prepare for a return to 2001 Afghanistan, a country divided up into Taliban-controlled areas and Non-Taliban areas– i.e. Warlords, Northern Alliance et al.

    Given the geography of the country– and do a search on this site to see the many, valuable posts Herschel has written on logistical lines through the Caspian to northern A-stan– it is feasible to establish alliances with anti-Taliban groups in the northern tier of A-stan who would allow us to establish semi-permanent bases from which we are free to conduct recon and raids as we deem necessary, including into Pakistan. We supply these pro-Western groups with modest military aid and have sufficient U.S. air power on call to ensure that the Taliban cannot move against them militarily– i.e. stalemate.

    U.S. presence in A-stan would be far smaller but with the understanding (and dormant capacity) that if we see signs of militant Islamic groups training for attacks on the West we can and will bring the hammer down on them. In the meantime, we maintain a small but potent U.S. presence in the region– extremely important vis a vis Iran and Pakistan (now that Obama has succeeded in canceling our huge advantages in Iraq)— in a very defensible position at an extremely low cost in lives and treasure.

    Note that this approach does not call for any kind of nation building or attempts to impose democracy on the area. If they want it, fine, but otherwise we are not there to win any hearts or minds, we just want enough native soil to put rings of Hesco barriers around for force protection and a spartan existence (no FOB’s, please) to enable meaningful sorties into Indian territory as needed. If Afghans in Taliban-controlled areas want to escape that oppression, then they can take up arms against them (which I imagine we would supply) or move to U.S.-allied areas (though we make no guarantees about their treatment by our hosts).

  10. On February 27, 2012 at 9:10 am, TS Alfabet said:

    CLARIFICATION: my reference to “Indian territory” was vernacular, i.e. “injun country” and in no way was meant to reference the territory of India.

  11. On February 27, 2012 at 2:43 pm, Buzz said:


    You have no idea what you’re talking about. The “prisons” at Bagram (technically the DFIP: Detention Facility in Parwan) is not an attempt to “rehabilitate” the detainees, as you say. It’s to gather intel. That is its sole purpose. They’re interogated almost daily. When we determine there’s no more intel to gather, we hand them over to the Afghans and, trust me, none of the detainees want to be handed over to the NSD.

    It’s not a place that they can recruit further jihadis, as the detainees never interact with one another and in fact don’t know who else is there. There is zero–zilch, nada–personal interaction among the detainees. They found a way to communicate by desecrating the korans, but we put an end to that. Otherwise, as far as they’re concerned they’re the one and only person at the DFIP.

    You can’t kill them all, Herschel, and the intel we gather from them helps us get the really big fish who do need to be killed. We’ve been pretty good at that so far.

    YOu can check the IP address I’m writing from to see that I have some credibility here and have personal experience at matters that you just opine about from the safety of your bedroom.

  12. On February 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Yes, Buzz, I see that you are writing from the SOCOM network domain. And I see that you’re pissed off enough to appeal to authority, which is commonly understood to be a logical fallacy.

    Here is what I think. I think that you are parroting the “company line.” I think that you have convinced yourself, in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary, that Pope McChrystal’s grand strategy of night raiding until everything is fine is working out just swimmingly.

    You have convinced yourself that the insurgents aren’t really released and aren’t really coddled by the ANSF, that they hate the horrible, elite ANSF, that they always give up the “big fish,” that you never get it wrong when you go night raiding, that intelligence is always accurate, that the folks in the town you raid always understand and agree with your raids, that no intel source is actually beheaded by the Taliban, that the insurgency cannot function without those so-called, assumed “big fish,” that Taliban prisoners captured by the Marines in Helmand aren’t released within 96 hours and return almost immediately to scoff at and ridicule the very Marines who captured them while they patrol among the people, that there are no real Taliban among those thousands that have already been released by the Afghan authorities, and that come hell or high water, night raids by the “cool boys” will win the day.

    Nice fantasy.

  13. On February 27, 2012 at 4:52 pm, Buzz said:


    Wow, guess I touched a nerve. Notice that I did not in fact appeal to authority: My words were “I have personal experience” here. I have in fact stood in the DFIP. Have you? I have in fact interacted with detainees, their ‘gators, the ‘terps, and the intel analysts. Have you?

    I said absolutely nothing about night raids or anything else. I said nothing about the ANSF. I mentioned the NDS, a completely different (and quite feared) animal.

    You said one thing, I called bullshit. My call is, again, not based on authority (although I have more on this subject than you do) but on ACTUAL, PERSONAL EXPERIENCE! (Sorry for the all-caps shout, but I can’t italicize here.)

    As an aside, you need to brush up on your logic, particularly the section on “non sequitur,” which is what your response amounts to.

  14. On February 27, 2012 at 4:54 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    You appealed to authority – yourself. Now Buzz, you must be respectful if you are going to comment again.

    BTW, I like your fantasy, I just cannot indulge in it.

  15. On February 27, 2012 at 6:48 pm, Buzz said:


    Appealing to personal experience is not an appeal to authority. It’s, well, an appeal to personal experience. An appeal to authority is “believe me just because of who I am regardless of the evidence.”

    Why you’re making a big deal of this is beyond me. You wrote about the “prisons” in Afghanistan based on, I’m guessing, speculation. I responded based on actually having been there and interacted with all concerned. Whom should we trust?

    Please don’t distract with side issues such as the values of night raids, etc. That’s not the subject of this discussion and never has been. It’s about the factual errors in your original post, errors I can point out because, unlike you, I’ve actually been there.

    I used to enjoy this blog. My active duty time was in the Corps. But you’re pissing up a rope here, and I wonder if I should even bother reading this blog anymore, as I’ve lost any respect for your authority on subjects that you feel free to opine about without bothering to find out if you actually know anything about the subject. If you’re so far off base on this topic, how far off base are you on others?

  16. On February 27, 2012 at 11:16 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Well Buzz, I’ll tell you what. Here’s the deal. You have demonstrated that you cannot engage in open debate without logical blunders and name calling. I’ve noticed that about some folks. It digressed rather rapidly with you.

    As for whether you read my blog or not, I frankly couldn’t care less. If that is supposed to make me feel somehow or other, you failed, and I’m not sure why you mentioned it. Whether you read this or any other blog is completely irrelevant to anything we are or have been discussing. You just threw that in because you didn’t know what else to say.

    Now. Since you have demonstrated that you cannot dialogue about the topic without hurling meaningless insults that add nothing to the discussion, you cannot comment any more.

    However … and this is a HUGE however … I completely support your vision for Afghanistan. I want all so-called general purpose troops out of Afghanistan, immediately. But I want the entirety of the campaign turned over the SOCOM so that you can imprison people until your heart is content.

    You can use a synthesis of HUMINT, signals, interrogations, surveillance, and so on and so forth, all coupled together, blather, blather, blather, blah, blah, blah, to find the really “big fish” and go get them.

    Nice narrative.

    Since it is going so swimmingly now, well hell, I’ll bet that in a couple of years of the same, Afghanistan will be Shangri La. And SOCOM can take the credit for it. In fact, I myself would give SOCOM and Pope McChrystal the credit for it.

    There is the little element of logistics to handle, and well, hell, those ANSF dudes who curled up into a fetal position in their beds during the battle of Kamdesh, and the issue of the ANA and ANP being high on opium, and the issue of the fact that within one to two weeks of killing these “big fish,” another, more radicalized younger fellow takes his place, and so on it goes.

    But I’ll bet that SOCOM can handle all of those issues. You should also bring the Pope back. He can supervise the plan.

    Again, I support your mission. I want to see Afghanistan turned over completely to SOCOM.

  17. On February 28, 2012 at 5:14 pm, Shawn said:

    Buzz is right. I have also been to the detainee facility at Bagram, and its nothing like you talk about. Your reaction is a bit defensive don’t you think?

  18. On February 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    No, Shawn, I don’t think so.

    Next question? Would you like to discuss how swimmingly things are going in Afghanistan? Or about how that synergistic intel is getting the “big fish?” Like I said. Two more years of this and Afghanistan should be Shangri La.

  19. On March 7, 2012 at 8:47 am, TS Alfabet said:

    @ Shawn and Buzz:

    Even if we assume for the sake of argument that the detainee facility at Bagram is the model of incarceration for bad guys, does it really matter at this point? Karzai is demanding that it and all other American-run detention facilities be turned over to Afghan control, so it’s going down the proverbial toilet anyway?

    The larger point is that many (the majority of?) bad guys captured by the Good Guys and turned over to Afghan authorities are getting released right back into the fight so they get another chance to kill our men in the field. Surely you would agree that this is no way to fight an enemy.

  20. On March 7, 2012 at 9:30 am, Herschel Smith said:

    TS Alfabet,

    Your’re attempting to argue with folks who are simply defending their mission. They cannot see the larger picture for their dedication (I’m arguing prisons in COIN, they are arguing their time observing one specific prison), which in a way is a good testimony to them personally, but it doesn’t bode well for the campaign that SOCOM has begun to believe their own propaganda.

  21. On March 12, 2012 at 1:34 am, anan said:

    Buzz is right. The NDS would knock the living daylights out of the Bagram prison inmates.

    So that is why we “SHOULD” transfer the prison to the ANSF as ISAF is doing. Why are we protecting Taliban from the ANSF?

    “The larger point is that many (the majority of?) bad guys captured by the Good Guys and turned over to Afghan authorities are getting released right back into the fight so they get another chance to kill our men in the field. Surely you would agree that this is no way to fight an enemy.”

    How popular do you think Karzai’s policy of releasing strategic detainees is among the ANSF? That is why the ANSF often prefer to kill Taliban rather than capture them. Why not let them?

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Prisons in Counterinsurgency and was published February 26th, 2012 by Herschel Smith.

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