updated 8/27/2007 11:45:17 PM ET 2007-08-28T03:45:17

The U.S. military said Monday it regretted any offense it may have caused by giving out a soccer ball with the word Allah written on it as part of a public relations exercise in Afghanistan.

At least one of several balls dropped by helicopter to children in eastern Khost province had 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 Gov. Arsalah Jamal

“They wanted to demonstrate, but we explained to them it was a mistake,” he said.

Muslims treat with the utmost respect any printed matter containing verses of the Koran 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.

‘Spirit of goodwill’
Sgt. Dean Welch, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said Friday’s “distribution of soccer balls was done in the spirit of goodwill, 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.

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