Taliban clashes, suicide attacks and an encounter with highway bandits punctuated field work during the latest national poll in Afghanistan for ABC News and its media partners, underscoring the challenges -- and physical hazards -- of public opinion research in conflict areas.
And then there's the traffic.
It's no small matter: Given Afghanistan's famously poor roads and aggressive drivers, six separate supervisors of interview teams reported car crashes during their work, some of them resulting in fatal injuries. In Panjshir, the supervisor listed transportation problems as follows:
1- Lack of mini buses 2- High prices of fuel, and road fares 3- Anarchy.
Nor is the chaos confined to the drivers. In Baghlan province, the field supervisor reported both a grenade attack on a wedding party and a raid by anti-government forces: "Tankers were put to fire by the Taliban and one American armored vehicle was completely destroyed by Taliban rocket attack."
The reports of Taliban clashes -- rocket attacks, roadside bombs, torching tankers and schools -- lend anecdotal support to the key findings of the survey, in which views of the U.S. performance and presence in Afghanistan have worsened in the face of increased reports of insurgent activity.
In Nuristan, "Taliban insurgents blazed and set afire to a girls' school," the supervisor reported. A Taliban attack on tankers was reported in Samangan. In Logar, "I watched a series of daunting clashes between the anti-government elements (probably the Taliban) and the ISAF forces on the highway."
In Jawzjan, the field supervisor reported, "During our survey a fight between security police and Taliban took place, the fight continued for four hours." And in Nimroz, "We witnessed rocket attacks on the second day of our work from Taliban on Nimroz airport."
Frustration with the pace of development also fuels negative views of Western efforts, and the supervisor reports described these problems as well. "The road in Salang was not in good condition, it was snowing and cars had crashed and fell down from the mountains," one said. Reaching a distant district in Bamiyan, another reported, "The road was in a very bad condition. Somehow we found a vehicle and went to Waras district and reached there after seven hours."
Mines and roadside bombs were reported in Nimroz, Nuristan and Laghman provinces; a "huge bomb blast" in Kandahar; and Taliban "virgorously active" in two districts in Laghman. There the supervisor allowed himself a personal observation: "I think the improvised explosive devices are very much terrible."
Field notes were collected and translated by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research (ACSOR) in Kabul, which has been responsible for field work for each of the six national surveys by ABC News and its media partners in Afghanistan. Design, management and analysis of this year's survey for ABC News was carried out by Langer Research Associates.
This year's supervisor comments follow in full.
Baghlan Finding vehicle for transportation was not a big deal, but the road in Salang was not in good condition, it was snowing and cars had crashed and fell down from the mountains, and for four hours we had to follow the patrol of ISAF forces. They were moving very slow which was very annoying, one car crashed with a big tanker in this accident all passengers in the small car were killed.