President Obama said Wednesday his apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Korans by U.S. troops last week has "calmed things down" after the episode spawned waves of violent anti-American protests.
"We're not out of the woods yet," Mr. Obama told ABC News in an interview at the White House. "But my criteria in any decision I make, getting recommendations from folks who are actually on the ground, is what is going to best protect our folks and make sure that they can accomplish their mission."
Mr. Obama's letter to Mr. Karzai expressed his administration’s "regret and apologies over the incident in which religious materials were unintentionally mishandled," a White House spokesman said last week.
Mr. Karzai's office said Mr. Obama called the Koran burnings "inadvertent," adding that the U.S. "will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible."
The president's critics and some members of the military have questioned the appropriateness of the apology, given the subsequent murder of two U.S. military officers at the hands of an Afghan inside one of the capital's secure ministry buildings.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a GOP candidate for president, criticized Mr. Obama for "surrending."
"The president apologized for the burning but I haven't seen the government demand that the government of Afghanistan apologize for the killing of two young Americans," Mr. Gingrich said. "He is consistnetly apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the United States. Period."
But the president told Bob Woodruff of ABC News that he has no second thoughts about the apology.
"Everything else — the politics or second guessing of these various decisions — I'm not worried about," Mr. Obama said.
In the interview, the president tried to smooth over the recent tensions between Afghan and U.S. forces as his administration prepares for the eventual withdrawal of all troops by the end of 2014.
"As difficult as Afghanistan has been, we are making progress because of the extraordinary service of our men and women in uniform," the president said. "The overwhelming majority of Afghan troops have welcomed and benefitted from the training and partnering that we're doing."
He said war is "tough business" and rarely goes perfectly.
"When you think about it, the same thing was true in Iraq," he said. "But because of the stick-to-itness of our teams, I feel confident that we can stay on a path that by the end of 2014 our troops will be out and will not be in a combat role and Afghans will have capacity, just as Iraqis, to secure their own country."
Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were hosting a dinner at the White House Thursday night for troops who served in the Iraq war. The evening has the theme, "A Nation's Gratitude."
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