For all these divisions, most Afghans by far, 77 percent, still think of themselves as Afghans first, rather than identifying primarily with their ethnic group - and despite the country's troubles that's up by 10 points from last year. That could be a positive sign for national cohesion; on the other hand, it also leaves open whether members of one ethnic group think of others as Afghans.
REGIONS and PROVINCES -- Underlying these results are sharp changes at the regional and provincial levels, underscoring the matrix of difficulties the United States, its allies and the Karzai government face.
In Helmand, the surge of Western forces has shown dramatic success in several respects. The number of Afghans living in Helmand who report Taliban engagements against government forces in their area has been cut in half, from 90 percent in early 2009 to 44 percent now. Reports of U.S. and NATO air strikes are down, as are reports of civilians hurt or killed by Western forces. Support for the U.S. presence and positive ratings of its efforts are up sharply, and ratings of freedom of movement and local security from crime and violence are dramatically higher -- the latter from just 14 percent positive a year ago to 67 percent now.
Last year in Helmand few -- 13 percent -- rated their security specifically from the Taliban and other armed groups positively. Now 58 percent do. The number who report killings by the Taliban in their area, 81 percent in early 2009, is 41 percent now.
Given the aid that has accompanied the allied efforts in Helmand, there have also been steep advances in positive ratings of living conditions overall and economic opportunities in particular, from 14 percent last year to 59 percent now. Positive ratings of local infrastructure have gained 18 points. The number who report construction of schools has soared from 29 percent last year to 73 percent now, and construction of clinics and government offices similarly is up. Reports of a strong presence and ratings of the performance of the central and provincial governments and Afghan army and police have advanced by vast margins.
Yet even with these gains ratings of the United States are just middling -- 43 percent in Helmand rate the performance of U.S. forces positively (up by 24 points) and 42 percent are confident in its ability to provide security (up by 15). Fifty-five percent in Helmand say attacks on U.S. forces can be justified, sharply up, possibly an effect of the mere presence of so many foreign fighters. And support for a drawdown of foreign troops to start before next summer has doubled, to 53 percent, another sign of discomfort with the heavy presence of these forces.
ISAF has targeted Kandahar for its next all-out effort, and there too, possibly in anticipation, positive views of the U.S. efforts are up -- in terms of ratings of its performance, support for its presence, confidence in its ability to provide security and overall U.S. favorability. At the same time, many of these are up from extremely low levels last year -- for example, just 31 percent rate the performance of U.S. forces positively, though this is up from a mere 7 percent last year.