Five U.S. soldiers were directly involved in the burning of Qurans last week at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, defense and military officials told NBC News.
The officials were speaking about the conclusion of a U.S. military investigation. They told NBC News that the investigation is not complete, but it appears that the five soldiers involved will not face criminal charges. Instead, it is "likely" they would face non-judicial punishment, which could be as simple as a reprimand.
The rank and identities of the five accused have not been made public, NBC News said.
The investigation's results will not be released until a similar joint investigation by the Afghan government and the U.S. is made public, which could come in a "matter of days," officials told NBC News said.
Despite an apology from President Barack Obama, the incident at Bagram airbase, which is being used by both U.S. and foreign forces under the NATO banner, ignited a wave of anti-Western fury across the country. Muslims consider the Quran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.
At least 30 people were killed in the protests.
The Quran burnings hurt U.S. efforts to win more trust from Afghans, an essential part of efforts to weaken the Taliban and force the militant group to negotiate an end to the war, now in its 11th year.
The Washington Post first reported that investigators appointed by Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, found that the soldiers removed the Qurans from a prison located at Bagram air base after they were found to contain extremist messages.
According to the article, the books were then placed in an office for safekeeping. But they were mistaken for garbage and taken to a landfill on the base.
Afghan employees identified the books as Qurans just as their pages caught fire, the Post says.
Officials told the paper it's unlikely the names of the five soldiers will be released or that their punishment will include a public trial in Afghanistan, as clerics demanded.
“What they did was careless, but there was no ill will,” a military official told the Post.
This article includes reporting by NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski.
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