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Rioting on the wane in Afghanistan, but U.S. military advisers not ready to return to ministry posts

U.S. personnel have not returned to Afghanistan's ministries following a weekend attack inside the Interior Ministry in which an Afghan soldier shot down two U.S. officers -- allegedly in retaliation for the accidental mishandling of Korans incorrectly burned during their disposal.

The killer fled in what has become the latest "green-on-blue incident" in which Afghan military members attack their coalition mentors. He remains at large.

In response to the weekend attack, Gen. John Allen, the top commander on the ground, pulled U.S. personnel from the defense and interior ministries and they will remain withdrawn until the security situation improves within the ministries, Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for ISAF in Afghanistan, said Monday. He said he did not know how long that may take. 

"Suffice it to say he is not ready right now to have the advisers go back. But this is temporary," he said, adding that no one is even sure why the Afghan soldier struck, though the event happened at the height of rioting against the U.S. military.

Tensions remain high in Afghanistan after nearly a week of rioting in response to the burning of the Korans, which were meant for disposal after being defaced by detainees sending cryptic messages in them. 

But the protests have diminished markedly since last week, Kirby said. The events of the last week are "troublesome, they are worrisome, and yes, they've got everyone's attention," but the number of people protesting has declined from an estimated 11,000 over the weekend to 3,000 or 4,000 on Monday.

"Obviously I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that things are tense here in Kabul. They certainly are," he said. "But I will tell you that it's getting calmer here."

Kirby said on Saturday, Afghans held 24 protests and "a great number of them were violent." On Sunday, only nine protests were held, and on Monday, three were held, but "only two of those three were about the Koran issue. One was about land disputes and none of the three were violent."

After the Korans were discovered to be mishandled, Allen and other military officials apologized immediately. That was followed by a letter from President Obama to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, which earned criticism as being obsequious. Critics also wondered whether Karzai had apologized to Obama for one of his own killing U.S. military.

Kirby said the decision to apologize was the president's, and Allen supported the decision. Little said Afghan officials did apologize to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others for this incident "and pledged to take immediate steps to curtail violence in the country and to do what they can to protect ISAF personnel."

The Pentagon also expressed regret at the loss of two other Americans and several Afghans at the hands of extremists. On Monday, nine Afghans were killed when a suicide bomber rammed his car into the gates of a NATO base in eastern Afghanistan.

Kirby and Pentagon spokesman George Little both said the attacks, the rioting and other efforts to divert the mission will be fruitless. 

"Anyone who believes they can weaken our resolve through these cowardly attacks is severely mistaken," Little said. "Our coalition will emerge from these challenges far stronger and as determined as ever to provide security for the Afghan people. ... We will not let recent events allow us to lose sight of the progress we are making toward our broader objectives."

Kirby repeated that the Koran burning "certainly is not emblematic of how we respect the religion of Islam." He added that it would be "making a leap here to try to extrapolate" the violence in the last week to a failure of the mission.

Despite Karzai's call for a trial against the American military who burned the Korans, Kirby said that he is not aware of "anybody being put on leave or anything like that" as a result of the burning.