KABUL - The burning of copies of the Noble Qur'an at a US base in Kabul has plunged US relations with Afghanistan into the abyss, complicating the West's decade-long mission in the Asian Muslim country, analysts believe.
"Relations have changed drastically, Candace Rondeaux of the International Crisis Group told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Sunday, February 26.
An accumulated sense of anxiety, anger and resentment has been building up for some time and it took a singular event -- the Qur'an burning -- to ignite a very big fire.
At least 30 people were killed in five days of violent protests across Afghanistan over the burning of copies of the Noble Qur'an at the Bagram airbase in Kabul.
Among those killed were two US soldiers, who were shot dead by an Afghan soldier in protest at the burning.
Trying to calm the Afghan anger, the US rushed to condemn the burning of Islam's holy book.
US President Barack Obama also apologized for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, describing the incident as a mistake.
However, the US apology has failed to calm the public anger, with Afghans attacking foreign bases in Afghanistan.
Death to America was the chant of thousands of angry Afghans, as the Taliban urged their countrymen to attack foreign troops to avenge the Qur'an burning.
The breaking point was reached when two senior US officers were shot and killed within the interior ministry in Kabul on Saturday, prompting the US commander to pull all advisors out of government ministries.
"It has never been as bad as this and it could be a turning point in the West's 10-year mission, said Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts' Network.
"There has been a very serious case of undermined trust and it really depends on whether it goes further downhill from here or the two sides get a chance to repair the damage.
Muslims consider the Qur'an the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.
Analysts believe that the strained ties further undermine West's plans to withdraw from Afghanistan.
"Fuses are very short, everybody is deeply concerned over the transition in 2014 and that has enhanced violent competition across the country," Rondeaux told AFP.
The US plans to end combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014 and hand security responsibility to the West-backed Afghan government.
But the explosion of public anger over the Qur'an burning casts deep doubts on these plans to materialize.
"We expect violence to increase to the end of 2013 and after that we have the issue of transition, and uncertainty over the future is very high," Afghan analyst Haroun Mir told AFP.
"There is a jockeying for power once the West leaves.
The US leads a 130,000-strong military force fighting the Taliban, which were ousted from power in 2001.
President Hamid Karzai's government and NATO forces have appealed for calm and restraint, fearful that the Taliban are trying to exploit the anti-American backlash.
Cases of Afghan security forces turning on their Western allies have increased in recent years, with a leaked classified coalition report saying last month that they "reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat".
Four French soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan colleague last month, prompting President Nicolas Sarkozy to announce an accelerated withdrawal of combat troops in 2013.
As pressure mounts on other Western governments to bring an early end to an unpopular campaign, fear grows among Afghans about their future."People know that without the US -- and especially the financial assistance -- the Afghan government's survival will be difficult so people are already trying to show their allegiance to the Taliban and other insurgent groups," said Mir.