Kabul: The burning of Qurans at a Nato base in Afghanistan advanced the Taliban's cause and any repeat of similar "negligence" by Western forces would be disastrous, the Afghan army chief of staff has warned.
The destruction of Qurans, which the United States described as unintentional, triggered widespread protests and fatal attacks on US troops by Afghan security forces and heavily strained ties between Kabul and Washington.
"The enemy [Taliban] will enlarge it and make use of it in such a way to instigate everybody," General Sher Mohammad Karimi told Reuters in an interview. "They took advantage of this incident. They will take advantage."
Karimi, sitting in his office at the heavily guarded Ministry of Defence, lamented Nato's failure to grasp the sensitivities regarding Afghanistan's culture and religion during the United States' longest war, now in its eleventh year.
"Those friends who have come here to help us are not doing it the way we asked them to," said Karimi, adding he was "very concerned" by the burning of a truckload of Qurans at Bagram air base about an hour's drive north of Kabul.
"God forbid if this mistake is repeated there will be a lot of trouble next time."
The Quran burnings set back the Western campaign to win the hearts and minds of Afghans in order to weaken the Taliban and force it to negotiate an end to the war. Instead, the Taliban urged Afghans to target foreign military bases and kill Westerners.
Violence spread across the country despite an apology from US President Barack Obama — from street demonstrations to Afghan security forces turning their weapons on US soldiers.
Two high-ranking US officers working as advisers in the Interior Ministry were shot at point blank at their desks, reinforcing fears of infiltration by the Taliban, who claimed responsibility.
Karimi also expressed concerns that the United States may want to cut the size of the Afghan army and security forces to reduce funding. "My question to the international community is that you spent billions of dollars to build the Afghan National Security Forces. Now, for a few million dollars, you should not jeopardise 10 whole years of achievement," said Karimi. "If that is reduced, it's just a big gamble with the enemy."