'Damage done' by threat of Koran burning, says US commander.
In an interview with ABC News, General David Petraeus expressed regret at the effect of the heavily-publicized threat from the Dove World Outreach evangelical church to torch hundreds of Korans to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"There has been some damage done," Petraeus said.
"You've seen it. You've seen, you've heard of the demonstrations here in Afghanistan - there are already in a sense images, if you will, implanted in minds albeit not with photos of something as inflammatory as the burning of a Koran," Petraeus said.
The general spoke out forcefully against the pastor's plans last week, warning that burning Korans would jeopardize coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The church's Pastor Terry Jones abandoned the plan after pleas from US President Barack Obama, the Vatican and other world leaders.
But the mere threat of torching the Muslim holy book triggered riots and protests around the world, including Afghanistan, where two protesters were killed on Sunday by Afghan forces breaking up a crowd of demonstrators.
Petraeus acknowledged that some in the Muslim world were inclined to hold a critical view of the United States.
"Well, there are predispositions out there. In some cases, to be fair, they are founded on other images - that are in cyberspace," he said.
The general was apparently referring to infamous photos of US soldiers humiliating and mistreating detainees held in Iraq and reports of similar incidents.
The United States had learned some "very, very hard lessons" and "sought to take corrective action," he said.
"But again, there are predispositions. There are people who want - who will use the platforms that they have - even religious platforms - to incite others and to inflame public opinion - in various populations around the world," he said.
On the other hand, Petraeus said NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan will be gradual and not a brusque "lights out" next August.
Asked about an exit date, Petraeus told NPR radio "the idea of some date out there is not unprecedented," mentioning past practice in Iraq.
But the idea of an August date for a pullout is not a "lights out" moment, he added.
For those who had another impression, Petraeus stressed: "we just have to keep on explaining."
On the Taliban's inroads in Afghanistan's north, Petraeus said: "It's a process that has been ongoing for years."
Yet when asked if NATO had dropped the ball on that account, Petraus said that in the past they did not have means to carry out the kind of "comprehensive counterinsurgency" that was needed.
Now, we can "broadly say that we have the inputs right," he said.
"It's not a conventional battle. It is slow progress. You take steps forward but you also take steps backward," Petraeus told NPR.
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