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White House: Obama did not suggest Afghan violence ended

Yemenis burn the U.S. flag to condemn the reported burning of holy Qurans in Afghanistan by U.S. troops during a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, March 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama did not suggest that violence had dissipated entirely in Afghanistan when he said that his apology to Afghanistan's leader had calmed furious protests over the burning of copies of the Koran, an Obama aide said on Thursday.

Obama spoke about the effects of his apology in an interview on Wednesday. Since he made the apology a week ago following the burning of the Korans at a NATO base near Kabul, four U.S. troops have been killed in two separate so-called "insider" attacks in Afghanistan.

Obama, who is running for re-election in November, is seeking to deflect criticism by Republicans for making what they call unnecessary apologies for U.S. actions overseas. At the same time, he does not want to be seen as playing down U.S. casualties in a costly, unpopular war.

"What the president said was what the commanding general in Afghanistan and others have said, which is that certainly that the statements by U.S. leaders had helped calm the situation down," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.

"But nobody has suggested that violence has ended in Afghanistan, in general or in reaction to the unfortunate incident involving the inadvertent unintentional burning of religious material," he said.

In the Wednesday interview with ABC News, Obama said his formal apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of the Korans had "calmed things down", after the incident spurred widespread protests against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Two U.S. officers were gunned down inside a secure area of the Afghan Interior Ministry on Saturday.

On Thursday, two American soldiers were shot dead in south Afghanistan by an Afghan believed to be a soldier and another in civilian clothing.

A week ago, the president wrote to Karzai to apologize after Afghan workers found charred copies of the Muslim holy book at the Bagram base near Kabul; other senior U.S. officials also apologized.

"It calmed things down. We're not out of the woods yet," Obama said of his apology. "My criteria in any decision I make, getting recommendations from the folks who are actually on the ground, is what is going to be best to protect our folks and make sure they can accomplish their mission."

 

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