Graham Bowley
and Alissa J. Rubin

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN: Two U.S. officers were shot dead inside the Interior Ministry building here Saturday, and NATO responded by immediately pulling all its advisers out of Afghan ministries in Kabul, in a deepening of the crisis over the U.S. military’s burning of Qurans at a NATO military base.

The order by the NATO commander, Gen. John R. Allen, came on the fifth day of virulent anti-American demonstrations across the country, and it was a clear sign of concern that the fury had reached deeply into even the Afghan security forces and ministries working most closely with the coalition.

Although there was no official statement that the gunman was an Afghan, in an email sent to Western officials in Kabul from NATO headquarters, the episode was described as “green on blue,” which is the military term used there when Afghan security forces turn their weapons on Western troops.

The killings, which happened within one of the most tightly secured areas of the ministry, add to the drumbeat of concern about a deepening animosity between civilians and militaries on both sides that have led to U.S. and coalition forces being killed in increasing numbers even before the Quran burning ignited nationwide rioting.

And the decision to withdraw from the Afghan ministries suddenly called into question the coalition’s entire strategy of joint operations with Afghan forces across the country, although Allen said NATO was still committed to fighting the war in Afghanistan.

“I condemn today’s attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers,” Allen said in a statement. The military had not yet found the person who carried out the shooting, he said, adding: “The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered. We are committed to our partnership with the government of Afghanistan to reach our common goal of a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan in the near future.”

A U.S. defense official who served in Afghanistan said NATO forces around the country had been told in recent days to keep their distance from their Afghan counterparts on shared bases, out of concern that there could be more attacks on them by Afghan soldiers.

Hostilities intensify

The killings Saturday are only the latest chapter in the deteriorating relations between the Afghans and NATO. Among the recent events that have heightened tensions are an Afghan soldier’s killing of French troops that led the French to move up their withdrawal date, and outrage over a video that showed four U.S. Marines urinating on bodies that were said to be those of Taliban fighters.

The Quran burning, however, has taken the animosity to a new level, eroding further the weakened trust between the Afghans and Americans. On Thursday, two U.S. soldiers were shot to death by a member of the Afghan Army at a base in eastern Afghanistan, as protests about the Quran burning raged outside.

“We’ve got this happening at the highest level of the ministry and at the boots-on-the-ground level,” said John Nagl, a fellow at the U.S. Naval Academy and a former Army officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The American strategy is to hand over responsibility as rapidly as we can to the Afghans, and this is going to require enormous trust between the Afghans and the Americans. And that’s now been violated on both sides, and we did it first.”

The intensifying enmity toward the U.S. presence a decade into the war is casting doubt on a central plank of the Obama administration’s strategy to end the United States’ involvement in the war: a close working relationship between Afghan forces and advisers and trainers who are trying to make the Afghans ready to defend and police the country on their own.

A U.S. official in Washington said the unrest and shootings of U.S. personnel by their Afghan counterparts would have a “huge” impact on discussions planned for the coming weeks among officials from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and other agencies.

The shootings came on another violent day, as thousands of Afghans incensed by the U.S. military’s burning of Qurans once again took to the streets in running clashes with the police that claimed the lives of another five Afghan protesters, officials said, while many more were wounded.