Kandahar has not seen the improvements in security, freedom of movement and economic opportunity cited in Helmand, so the gains in U.S. ratings at this point appear to be based more on expectations than on delivery. And there are plenty of challenges in Kandahar; the Taliban were based here, and continue to have more sympathy in Kandahar than anywhere else. Indeed 45 percent in Kandahar now express a favorable view of the Taliban, up 20 points from last year, and quadruple the group's favorability in the country as a whole.
Moreover, the gains in support on some key measures for the United States and NATO in Helmand and Kandahar are not matched elsewhere; to the contrary, many of these same ratings have declined in most other regions, particularly in the Northwest, Northeast, Central and East. (See the methodology statement at the end of this analysis for a definition of regions.)
A shift in Taliban activity is one reason; while reports of fighting between Taliban and government forces are down in Helmand and Kandahar, they're sharply higher in the Central, East and Northeast regions. The Taliban are reported to have gained strength especially in the East (where 49 percent say they've grown stronger in the past year) and North (37 percent). Security ratings overall have declined in the East and Central regions, and reports of allied bombardment, and of civilians hurt or killed by U.S forces, have sharply risen in these regions.
Ratings of security specifically from the Taliban and other armed groups are sharply lower in the North and Central regions. Freedom of movement is much curtailed in the East, Central region and Northwest. And ratings of economic opportunities have worsened markedly in the Northeast, East and Northwest.
Some of these results are summarized in the index of Taliban activity and the index of living conditions reported above. Sharp gains on both of these in Helmand have been surpassed by setbacks elsewhere.
Such are the problems facing the U.S. and its allies. For one, squeezing Helmand appears to have had the effect of pushing the Taliban elsewhere in the country. For another, security is not the only cause of dismay in Afghanistan. As previous polls in this series have shown, poverty, lack of economic opportunity and the sheer scope of development needs are additional, critical impediments to progress. Repeating the Helmand experience in each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces likely would help -- were the resources, much less the will, within the realm of reality.
FACTORS -- As noted above, the support for the presence of U.S. forces is lower in areas where security has worsened. Specifically, while positive ratings of the U.S. performance and support for its presence are up since last year in high conflict provinces (where the U.S. and NATO are focusing much of their efforts) positive ratings of the U.S. performance has lost 25 points, and support for its presence has lost 21 points, in areas where conflict is increasing. In all other provinces, these views are essentially flat.
There are other factors. Support for the United States also is stronger -- by a broad 25 points -- where the Afghan government has a strong presence. Among other influences, it's higher where local conditions are good or improving, where Taliban activity is more muted, among Afghans who say they can afford to buy necessities and among those with more education.