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US officials urge ‘stay the course’ in wake of Afghan violence

“This is not the time to decide that we’re done here,” US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker said on CNN’s State of the Union.

As attacks on allied forces in Afghanistan continued Sunday in the wake of Quran burnings by American troops, US officials reaffirmed their commitment to the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and to preventing Al Qaeda advances in the country.

“This is not the time to decide that we’re done here,” US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker said on CNN‘s State of the Union. “We have got to redouble our efforts. We’ve got to create a situation in which Al Qaeda is not coming back.”

“Tensions are running very high here and I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business,” said Amb. Crocker, who served in the Bush administration as ambassador to Iraq. “If we decide we’re tired of it, Al Qaeda and the Taliban certainly aren’t.”

Also speaking on CNN, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who is now working on President Obama’s re-election campaign, said, “What the president’s trying to do now is get us to a point where we can hand off the security of Afghanistan to the Afghans and that we can bring our troops home.”

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On Sunday, a grenade thrown by protesters at a US base in northern Afghanistan wounded seven NATO troops, identified in some reports as Americans.

More than 30 people have been killed in clashes since Tuesday when it was first reported that copies of the Muslim holy book and other religious materials belonging to Taliban prisoners had been thrown into a fire pit used to burn garbage at Bagram Air Field, a large US base north of Kabul.

Those killed include a US lieutenant colonel and a major shot in the head with what is believed to have been a silencer-equipped pistol inside a heavily guarded Interior Ministry building Saturday.

The New York Times reported Sunday that according to three Afghan security officials familiar with the case, the main suspect worked in the ministry for more than a year as a driver.

As a result of the recent violence directed at allied forces, NATO, Britain, and France have recalled their international advisers from Afghan ministries. German troops were withdrawn early from an outpost in northern Afghanistan, and US advisers have been ordered to stay inside the secure US Embassy compound in Kabul.

In a televised address Sunday, President Karzai said it is “a time when the people of Afghanistan are angry over the burning of the holy Quran.” But he also emphasized that “now is the time to return to calm and not let our enemies use this situation.”

The recent turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan tied to the burning of Muslim holy materials, has become a political issue in the United States — particularly since President Obama and other US officials publicly apologized for what was said to be the “inadvertent” action of US military forces.

“To apologize for something that was not an intentional act is something that the president of the United States in my opinion should not have done,” Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “I think it shows weakness.”

Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has called the apologies “outrageous.”

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“There seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama’s attention in a negative way and he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States period,” Gingrich told a campaign crowd in Washington State. “And, candidly, if Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, doesn’t feel like apologizing [for the killing of Americans by Afghan protesters] then we should say good bye and good luck, we don’t need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money on somebody who doesn’t care.”

Speaking on CNN Sunday, Sen. John McCain, senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, agreed with Ambassador Crocker that the US should not leave Afghanistan because of the current difficulties, arguing for a longer timetable for withdrawal.

“Have no doubt, that if Afghanistan reverts to a chaotic situation, you will see Al Qaeda come back and it again will be a base eventually of attacks on the United States of America,” he said.