A U.S. official has apologized Wednesday for leaflets dropped in Afghanistan that were deemed offensive to Islam.
Shah Wali Shahid, the deputy governor of Parwan province, says the leaflets dropped Monday night, which encouraged Afghans to cooperate with security forces, included an image of a dog carrying the Taliban flag, which contains a passage from the Quran in Arabic.
The dog is considered unclean in Islam and associating an image of the animal with one of the religion's most sacred texts prompted indignation.
Maj. Gen. James Linder apologized, saying the leaflets mistakenly contained an image that was offensive to "both Muslims and the religion of Islam."
"I sincerely apologise. We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners worldwide," Linder said, adding that an investigation would be held "to determine the cause of this incident and to hold the responsible party accountable".
Parwan Governor Mohammad Hasem condemned the leaflet as "unforgivable" and said an investigation would be held.
"Those who have committed this unforgivable mistake in the publicity, propaganda or media section of the coalition forces will be tried and punished," he said.
The incident highlights one of the challenges facing international forces in Afghanistan, most of which are from non-Muslim cultures, despite the efforts Western forces have generally taken to avoid stoking anti-foreigner sentiment by creating offense on religious grounds.
In 2012, U.S. commanders were forced to apologies after copies of the Quran and other religious texts were mistakenly burned at Bagram Air Base near Kabul. The incident sparked large demonstrations in Kabul and other provinces in which several people were killed.
On another occasion, a film of U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters caused widespread offense, prompting an investigation and criminal charges.
So-called information operations conducted by government and coalition forces have long been used to try to persuade local people to turn against the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Throughout the 16-year Afghan war, U.S. forces have struggled to convince ordinary Afghans to help them defeat the Taliban. Afghanistan is a deeply conservative country, and alleged blasphemy has sparked riots.