| US commanders fear planned burning of Quran copies will undermine Obama's effort to reach out to Muslims [EPA]
US military commanders in Afghanistan have said that a small Florida church's plan to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks could endanger the lives of American troops.
Two senior US commanders in Afghanistan said on Monday the proposed burning of the Muslim holy book risked undermining President Barack Obama efforts to reach out to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.
They said it could also trigger retaliation against US forces serving in Afghanistan.
The warnings come amid angry protests by several hundred people in the Afghan capital, Kabul, who chanted "Death to America" as they denounced the planned burning event by the Dove World Outreach Centre church in Gainesville, Florida.
The centre, calling itself a "New Testament, Charismatic, Non-Denominational Church", says it will go ahead with the torching of the Quran on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the 2001 attacks against the US.
Gainesville authorities have said the event will contravene fire safety rules.
"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort," David Petraeus, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement to US media organisations.
"It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world, we are engaged with the Islamic community."
Lieutenant-General William Caldwell, commander of the Nato training mission in Afghanistan, told CNN that news of the planned Quran burning by the little-known Florida church was already provoking popular anger in Afghanistan.
"It's their holy book, so when somebody says that they're going to destroy that and cause a desecration to something that's very sacred to them, it's already stirred up a lot of discussion and concern amongst the people," he said.
"We very much feel that this could jeopardise the safety of our men and women that are serving over here."
The US embassy in Kabul said the "United States government in no way condones such acts of disrespect against the religion of Islam, and is deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups".
"Americans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds reject this offensive initiative by this small group in Florida, a great number of American voices are protesting the hurtful statements made by this organization," it said in a statement.
In comments broadcast on CNN, Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Centre, said it would be "tragic" if anybody's life was lost as a result of the planned Quran burning.
But he said: "Still, I must say that we feel that we must sooner or later stand up to Islam, and if we don't, it's not going to go away."
The church's website says it seeks to "expose Islam" as a "violent and oppressive religion".
It displays a sign reading "Islam of the Devil".
In Kabul, the demonstrators, mostly students from religious schools who gathered outside Kabul's Milad ul-Nabi mosque, said they would continue their protests.
"We call on America to stop desecrating our Holy Quran," Wahidullah Nori, a student, told the Reuters news agency.
The dispute comes at a time of already heated debate in the US over a proposal to build a cultural centre and mosque two blocks away from the site in New York City of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre.
Opponents of the building plan say it is insensitive to families of the victims of the attacks by al-Qaeda.
US-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan soon after those attacks after it refused to hand over al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.
Demonstrations and riots triggered by reported desecration of the Quran are not infrequent in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries.
The most violent protests came after cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper in 2006.
Last January, Afghan troops shot and killed eight demonstrators and wounded 13 in southern Helmand province in a riot triggered by a report that foreign troops had desecrated the Quran during a raid, though a spokesman for Nato forces denied the report.