Dismayed by rising Taliban activity and persistent economic hardship, Afghans have turned more negative in their assessment of the presence and performance of U.S. and NATO forces in their country, with sharply different regional patterns that track the country's vexing challenges.
Nationally, after advancing last year in anticipation of better days, sentiment has shifted for the worse. Favorable views of the United States, rating of its performance, confidence in its ability to provide security and support for its presence all have matched previous lows or set new ones in the latest in a five-year series of polls in Afghanistan by ABC News and its media partners.
Regional differences are dramatic. Ratings of the United States and its allies have advanced sharply, albeit from a very low level, in Helmand and Kandahar, the two provinces where Western military and development efforts have been focused. Those gains, however, have been more than offset by deterioration in other areas of the country, where instability or economic difficulties have risen and a strong U.S. and NATO presence is lacking.
The latest survey is based on face-to-face interviews with a random sample of nearly 1,700 Afghan adults in all 34 of the country's provinces. The poll was sponsored by ABC News, the BBC, ARD German TV and The Washington Post, with field work by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research (ACSOR) and project design, management and analysis for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York. See separate report for methodological details.
DOWNTURN -- In Afghanistan as a whole, the results find a retreat from last year's higher hopes, with stability, economic opportunity and a reduction in violence still absent from much of the country, despite the surge of Western forces.
In one basic measure, just 43 percent of Afghans now express a favorable opinion of the United States, down 8 points to a new low; and fewer, 32 percent, rate the U.S. performance in Afghanistan positively, tying the low. Both are at about half of their peak in 2005.
Only 36 percent now express confidence in U.S. and NATO forces to provide security and stability in their area, down 12 points from last year and down by a vast 31 points since 2006. And one in four now blames the United States or its NATO allies for the country's violence, more than double the level a year ago.
Backing for the surge of Western forces has cooled: Last year 61 percent of Afghans supported the U.S. and NATO sending additional troops to their country; today that's fallen to 49 percent. And more now say the United States is playing a negative rather than a positive role in Afghanistan, 43 percent to 36 percent, a switch from last year.
For all the effort, the survey finds reports of Taliban activity on the rise -- down in some areas, but up in more of them. And just 33 percent overall say the broadly unpopular Taliban have been weakened in the past year -- down from the 40 percent who said so a year ago.