Anti-American protests and violence, sparked by an accidental Koran-burning, suggest that Afghans see us as more occupiers than liberators.
Afghans in Ghani Khail, protesting a recent Koran-burning by U.S. troops, hold up an effigy of Barack Obama, which they later burned / AP
There are 90,000 American troops in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, but it looks more and more like it's Afghanistan itself, as well as the Taliban, that's fighting them back. A week ago, two unthinking NATO troops drove some trash from an old library to an incinerator near Bagram Air Force Base. Among the trash were books, and among the books, a couple of nearby Afghan workers noticed after it was too late to save them, were Korans. Within hours, the incident became international news, and angry protesters began burning tires outside Bagram. Though senior NATO and U.S. officials immediately televised their profuse and apparently sincere apologies, the protests have become steadily more violent. Some Afghan police have turned on their Western sponsors. On Saturday, an Afghan employee of the Interior Ministry shot two U.S. officers inside the ministry's Kabul headquarters, then walked out unmolested. On Sunday, a protester threw a grenade at a group of American troops, injuring six.
The Taliban is trying to claim these protests and shooters as part of their own movement, and maybe someday they'll be able to, but the Taliban is still so unpopular in Afghanistan that there's probably no direct connection. And that's exactly what should make this violence so worrying. The U.S.-led force in Afghanistan, caught up in fighting the Taliban and its offshoots, may have made an enemy of the Afghan people themselves. President Obama is already planning to speed the U.S. withdrawal, but it might not be up to him anymore. If Afghans reject the international force then the most basic conceit of this decade-long war -- Westerners partnering with Afghans to rebuild their country -- will have collapsed, and the U.S.-led mission along with it. These angry young men rioting in the streets and murdering Americans aren't the Taliban, but they appear organized and passionate and numerous enough to take over once we leave, or at least to exert serious influence, and it's not hard to foresee the theocratic government they'd likely introduce.