But the killing of two high-ranking NATO officers by an Afghan security official — and the subsequent decision by the top NATO commander in the country to recall his personnel from top Afghan ministries — has spurred doubts about whether Afghan security forces can be relied upon to provide for the protection of their Western partners. The consequences of that erosion of confidence, former U.S. officials and analysts say, could be devastating.
“If the trust, ability and willingness to partner falls apart, you are looking at the endgame here,” said Mark Jacobson, who served until last summer as the NATO deputy senior civilian representative in Kabul.
The killing of the U.S. officers on Saturday occurred two days after a man wearing an Afghan army uniform fatally shot two American troops in eastern Afghanistan, the latest in a string of incidents in recent months in which local security forces have turned against NATO personnel.
Some of the killings have been perpetrated by Afghan troops whose loyalties lay with the Taliban. But, in most cases, the attacks have been the result of tensions between U.S. forces and Afghans who felt as though they had suffered an insult to themselves or their faith.
On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who initially responded to the Koran burnings with outrage, sought to stem the latest wave of violence by issuing a plea for calm and blessing the withdrawal of NATO advisers from his ministries as a justifiable measure.
But protests continued, including in the northern city of Kunduz, where Afghan demonstrators opened fire and tossed a grenade at a U.S. base, wounding seven American troops. The Afghan defense and interior ministers canceled a long-planned trip to Washington to focus on curbing the violence, which has claimed 25 Afghan lives.
“We remain committed to a partnership with the Afghan government and people,” the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ryan C. Crocker, told CNN on Sunday, promising that American service members and civilians would continue to work with their Afghan allies.
For now, though, much of the cooperation between U.S. advisers and their Afghan partners is on hold. And even though the decision to withdraw the advisers is probably temporary, it is not clear how U.S. troops will be able to reestablish trust with Afghan security forces.
“This is not going back to business as usual,” an Army officer who works as an adviser in Kabul said Sunday. “The threat is still higher than normal.”
Once advisers return to the ministries, the officer said, some will probably have to shorten their visits, instead of remaining there for six- to 10-hour shifts, to reduce risks.