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Will Killings Over Quran Burnings Lead To Faster Pullout From Afghanistan?

In Herat, Afghanistan, on Friday: Demonstrators shouted anti-American slogans. (AFP/Getty Images)

The news from Afghanistan remains grim as protests and attacks continue over the recent burning of some Qurans and other Islamic materials at an airbase controlled by international forces. The violence and unrest has also, The Washington Post writes, "exposed a crippling weakness in the American strategy to wind down the war."

Early today, as The Associated Press reports, a suicide car bomber struck outside an airfield in Jalalabad that's used by both international military and commercial flights. At least nine people were killed, the wire service says. It adds that "more than 30 people have been killed in protests and related attacks since the incident came to light [last] Tuesday, including four U.S. soldiers."

That followed the killing of two U.S. military personnel on Saturday, inside the supposedly secure Afghan Interior Ministry — murders that led to the recall of all Western military advisers from Afghan government ministries because of commanders' concern for their safety. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the killings.

Now, says NPR's Quil Lawrence, speaking to Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep from Kabul, an important question is being asked: "If the U.S. here is transitioning to an advisory role, but can't even go and advise Afghans inside the safest part of Kabul, outside of maybe the president's palace, then what can they do?"

Advising the Afghans during a transition that's supposed to lead to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops by the end of 2013 and then the pulling out of most advisers by a year or so later, is the centerpiece of the U.S./NATO mission. As the Post writes:

"The emerging U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is built around plans to replace large NATO combat formations with small teams of advisers who will live and work alongside their Afghan partners."

But, it adds, the killings of Americans by Afghan military personnel (which as we've previously reported was a growing problem even before this past week):

"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."

According to Quil, there's now "a lot of chat" about the possibility of a faster withdrawal of U.S. personnel.

The official word from the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, is that "this is not the time to decide that we're done here. ... We have got to redouble our efforts. We've got to create a situation in which al-Qaida is not coming back."

President Obama and the top U.S./NATO commander in Afghanistan have apologized for the burning of the Qurans, which officials say was not intentional.

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