"I think the entire world shifted under our Afghan policy because of this, both in Kabul and in Washington," said Douglas A. Ollivant, who was a senior National Security Council official in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
This incident, several officers told McClatchy Newspapers, has left U.S. troops saying that they can't keep training Afghans who may try to kill them. It's a growing problem that plagued the mission even before coalition forces accidentally burned several copies of the Quran in a trash fire last week.
Obama and other senior U.S. officials apologized for the incident, which triggered a week of protests and attacks in which about 40 people have died.
"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, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
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. After the Quran burnings, Afghans said they couldn't understand how U.S. soldiers could commit such acts more than a decade into the war.
The training mission "will never succeed if they keep burning the Quran or disrespect our beliefs," said Khan Agha, a police officer in the Sarobi district of Kabul, the capital. "They will not succeed in insulting our religion. But if they respect our holy book and our religion and focus only on training, then they can succeed."
Earlier on 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 for the bombing and said it was in retaliation for the Quran burnings. Hours later, U.S. officials said that the attacks wouldn't derail the training mission and that they thought the violence would abate.
"I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that things are tense here in Kabul. They certainly are," said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a military spokesman in Kabul. "But I will tell you that it is getting calmer here."
Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, continued to keep hundreds of U.S. personnel out of Afghan ministries, where they had been on training and advisory missions, after an Afghan soldier shot and killed two U.S. service members Saturday at the heavily guarded Interior Ministry. The shooter slipped out of the building and remained at large.
Kirby said U.S. troops would train Afghans remotely, via e-mail and telephone, until officials could improve security at the ministries. That could take weeks, officials said, and when they do return, U.S. troops probably will find more security barriers between themselves and the Afghans.