KABUL, Afghanistan -- An American soldier would have been well served to remember the childhood adage about sticks and stones before he threw rocks at a wall-size portrait of President Hamid Karzai that graces a town square in northeastern Afghanistan.
If only he had used his words.
Fortunately, at a time of growing tensions between Afghans and Americans, the only thing the soldier seems to have bruised was his career. He was pulled from the front line after local residents saw the rock-throwing and complained about the disrespect shown their president, according to an Afghan official and the American-led military coalition.
In the annals of American missteps in Afghanistan, the case of the stone-throwing soldier ranks far below Marines' urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, the accidental burning of Korans, and other episodes that have offended and enraged the Afghan public over the past dozen years.
But it does offer a reminder about how patience on both sides is wearing thin as the war grinds on, and that thoughtless acts can lead to international incidents. This one, at least, appears to have been quickly contained.
The coalition said in a statement on Tuesday that it was "aware of the allegations claiming a U.S. service member threw a rock at a governmental poster." The soldier has been pulled from Kunar Province, the northeastern region where his unit is based, and the incident was under investigation, it said.
The coalition could not say whether the soldier, whom officials would not identify, remains in the country.
In the meantime, "we are working with Afghan officials now to explain what happened and to emphasize that the service member's action in no way represents the values of the coalition forces," the statement said.
Gov. Said Fazlullah Wahidi of Kunar Province said he first received complaints last week that a soldier had been spotted throwing rocks at the portrait of Mr. Karzai as his unit walked through the square in Asadabad, the provincial capital, on its way to train local police officers.
It would not take a great arm or superb aim to hit the portrait of Mr. Karzai: the square is not large, and the weathered picture -- showing the president in a traditional turban, his face calm and composed -- stands about 9 feet high and 15 feet wide on the side of a building where it was hung ahead of the 2009 election.
There are no slogans on the picture, just a few words in the Pashto language that say "Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan."
Regardless of whether he knew any Pashto, the American soldier surely would have recognized Mr. Karzai, and the Afghans who saw him throw the stones quickly complained to Governor Wahidi.
Governor Wahidi instructed the police to ask shopkeepers and others who hang around the square to keep an eye out for other stone-throwing soldiers.
On Monday, the same soldier was again spotted throwing rocks at Mr. Karzai's portrait. Word was quickly passed to the governor.
"I told the American commander to bring the soldier here and to explain why he did that," Governor Wahidi said. "The U.S. commander said that we can't bring him for security reasons because Afghan soldiers may attack him."
An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Asadabad, Afghanistan.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.