US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday stepped in to offer an apology to Afghanistan after protests erupted over reports that copies of the Quran and other religious material was "improperly disposed" of at the Bagram airbase.
Protests had erupted in Afghanistan over reports that NATO troops had burned copies of the holy book along with other religious material, with protesters assembling around the the largest US-run military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
"This morning ISAF Commander General John Allen notified me of the deeply unfortunate incident involving the inappropriate treatment of religious materials, including the Koran, at Bagram Airbase," Panetta said in a statement.
"He and I apologise to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms," said the US Defence Secretary, stating categorically that these actions do not represent the views of the United States military.
"We honour and respect the religious practices of the Afghan people, without exception," he said.
Earlier, US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, too apologised and ordered an investigation into the reports after angry crowds gathered outside the airbase, north of Kabul, shouting 'Death to Americans'. Protests also erupted in Kabul.
"I offer my sincere apologies for any offence this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan," Allen said.
Panetta said he supports General Allen's swift and decisive action to investigate this matter jointly with the Afghan government.
"I will carefully review the final results of the investigation to ensure that we take all steps necessary and appropriate so that this never happens again," Panetta said.