As violence continued Monday in Afghanistan over the accidental burning of Qurans by U.S. troops last week, American military officials and analysts are beginning to question whether the United States needs to change its mission of training Afghan soldiers and police, a key plank of President Obama's withdrawal strategy.
White House and Pentagon officials said publicly that they weren't yet contemplating a major overhaul of the plan to build a force of more than 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers and to hand over the country's security to it by 2014 or earlier. But privately, U.S. military officers in Washington and Kabul acknowledged that the scale of violence over the past week has worsened an already uneasy relationship between U.S. and Afghan forces.
"I think the entire world shifted under our Afghan policy because of this, both in Kabul and in Washington," said Douglas A. Ollivant, who served as a senior National Security Council official in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
The violence, several officers told McClatchy Newspapers, has left U.S. troops saying that they can't keep training Afghans who may try to kill them.
"Afghans hate us, and we don't trust them. We have never felt safe around them," said a U.S. military officer who works on Afghanistan policy, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The mistrust exists on both sides. Some Afghan soldiers and police officers have told investigators in previous incidents that American forces are rude, culturally insensitive or hostile to them. In the wake of the Quran burnings, Afghans said they couldn't understand how U.S. soldiers could commit such acts more than a decade into the war.
Earlier Monday, at least nine Afghans died in a suicide bombing at an air base that coalition forces use in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said it was in retaliation for the Quran burnings.