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Afghanistan policy questioned after Quran burnings

Published: February 28, 2012 | 8:26 am
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Washington — 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 hand over security of the country 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 – four American soldiers were killed by their Afghan counterparts and seven were wounded – 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 Ollivant, who served as 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, 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.

So far this year, Afghan troops have killed at least 10 U.S. service members who were training them, including the four last week. Two weeks ago, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Afghan troops had killed 70 American service members in 46 incidents since 2007; half of those had occurred since May 2009.

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. 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.

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