The Taliban, along with al Qaeda, still bear the brunt of the blame for Afghanistan's violence, and 74 percent of Afghans continue to say it was good for the United States to have invaded nearly a decade ago. But that's down 9 points since last year and down 14 points from its high in late 2006. And 73 percent now favor a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, a number that's grown by 13 points since 2007 as fighting has continued -- even though more than six in 10 reject the notion that the Taliban have adopted a more moderate stance. (A third do see it as more moderate, up from a quarter.)
Criticisms are not limited to foreign forces. The number of Afghans rating the work of foreign aid organizations positively has ebbed from 50 percent in late 2009 to 43 percent now. The number rating the United Nations positively has slipped from 61 percent to 55 percent.
Security is not the only issue: An index based on ratings of local living conditions is down, with particular declines in regions outside those where the U.S. and NATO efforts are focused. Tellingly, more Afghans say their economic opportunities are getting worse rather than getting better, by 40 percent to 22 percent; more also say their freedom of movement, as well as their security from crime and violence, have worsened.
PRESENCE and PULLOUT -- Even while criticizing the performance of U.S and NATO forces, most Afghans still support their presence, given the unpalatable alternative of Taliban control. But support for the presence of these forces also has slipped from last year, to numerical lows.
While 62 percent support the presence of U.S. military forces, that's dropped from a high of 78 percent in 2006. Fewer, 54 percent, support the presence of NATO/ISAF forces, also down from 78 percent four years ago. Moreover, when asked to gauge the level of support "among the people in this area" for such forces, only 35 percent say it's very or fairly strong, another new low numerically, down from 67 percent at its peak in 2006. (ISAF is the International Security Assistance Force, the U.N.-mandated, NATO-led multinational force in Afghanistan.)
There are sharp divisions in views of how long U.S. and NATO/ISAF forces should stay. Nearly three in 10 Afghans say Western troops should begin to leave sooner than next summer's target for drawdowns to begin, up 6 points from last year. About as many accept next summer as the start time for withdrawal, and as many again say it should depend on the security situation. But the smallest group -- 17 percent -- say the full deployment should be maintained longer.
If security gets better, 59 percent say foreign forces should leave more quickly. If it gets worse, 54 percent say they should stay longer. But notably, 41 percent say the forces should leave sooner even if security deteriorates.
SOME GAINS -- Some views of the U.S. and NATO performance are less negative. In the best rating, 53 percent say Western forces are doing better at training the Afghan Army and police. However far fewer see improvement at other key tasks -- providing security (36 percent better, but 32 percent worse), providing reconstruction and development assistance (32 percent better, but 30 percent worse) and supporting local authorities (28-28 percent better/worse).