"This is sort of a sink or swim effect," she said. "At some point, they will have to be able to do this stuff on their own. This is going to be an indicator for how far they come. We'll find out."
Another effect of the move is the political perception in Afghanistan and the West, with two narratives emerging, she said.
One view is this move will empower the Afghans and give them a "taste of what they expect to experience," she said. But the other sees the decision as looking like the coalition is abandoning the soldiers with which it promised to partner.
NATO-led nations have set the end of 2014 for the planned withdrawal of combat forces. Sanok said declaring a specific withdrawal date feeds into the sense that the coalition is backing down and Afghanistan will be abandoned despite any changes in conditions on the ground.
Another key to the future of the Afghan security forces is the selection of two top security ministers, interior and defense. At the moment, those spots are open, Sanok said.
Sanok also said she does not understand why the coalition is publicly highlighting the change it made. She said the military frequently makes changes in the field without discussing them in the press.
"They are actually talking about it," she said. "They probably could have gone on fewer patrols" without saying anything.
All of these changes might not matter to many Americans. She said they have "Afghanistan fatigue" and the public "pretty much thinks it's time to move on."
But the militants might not be going anywhere, a reality that requires robust training.
"I don't think this is an enemy that's on its last legs and can be tipped into collapse on the battlefield anytime soon," said Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Australian Brig. Gen. Roger Noble, ISAF deputy chief of staff for operations, who briefed Pentagon reporters in a teleconference Wednesday, stressed that Allen's decision isn't preventing Afghan-coalition partnership.
Given the angry response to things seen as anti-Muslim, "you'd be crazy not to heighten force protection," he said.
"He's just reinforcing the requirement to make a considered decision about when, where and how that happens. And he reserves the right, of course, to change that policy in response to what's happening," Noble said, referring to Allen.
The coalition has worked furiously to train the Afghan military and remove the last of its surge troops this month. The Afghan military and police will be in charge of security when combat troops depart the country.
The insider attacks have eroded trust between Afghan and coalition forces. The killings have emerged as a greater long-term problem than the ire over the recent anti-Islamic video.
"The problem with the insider attacks is it strikes right at the heart of our resolve," Noble said. "It is one thing to be killed in action fighting the insurgents, quite another to be shot in the back of the head at night by your friends."
Insurgent sentiment and cross-cultural differences resulting in animosity have been factors in attacks. The military has been investigating the causes of the attacks.
Coalition forces have taken security steps to deal with the strikes. They have required troops to carry loaded weapons at all times. They have stationed some troops to be "guardian angels," soldiers in units who keep an eye on the Afghan forces.