KABUL, Afghanistan – The U.S. military regrets any offense it may have caused by handing out a soccer ball emblazoned with the name of Allah on it as part of a public relations exercise in Afghanistan, a spokesman said.
At least one of the balls — which were dropped by helicopter to children in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan on Friday — carried a small picture of the Saudi Arabian flag. The flag features in Arabic script the Islamic declaration of faith, which contains the words Allah and the Prophet Muhammad.
Villagers were "upset and angry" when they saw the ball, said Khost governor Arsalah Jamal.
"They wanted to demonstrate, but we explained to them it was a mistake," he said Monday.
Muslims treat with the utmost respect any printed matter containing verses of the Quran or the name of Allah or his prophet on it. Most would find the idea of kicking a ball emblazoned with those two names as deeply offensive.
Sgt. Dean Welch, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said "the distribution of soccer balls was done in the spirit of good will, something that we hoped would bring Afghan children some enjoyment."
"We regret any disturbance that was caused in this case," he said. "If we hurt one person, that is one too many."
Afghanistan is a staunchly Islamic country and its people are quick to demonstrate at perceived disrespect to their faith. Many are already deeply unhappy at the presence of some 50,000 mostly non-Muslim troops in their country.
Last year, violent protests followed the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the Western media. In 2005, several people were killed during demonstrations against the alleged desecration of copies of the Koran by U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay.
Jamal said the U.S. military had told him they bought the balls in a market in Kabul and that they were made in China.