Public support for President Obama's Afghanistan war policy has plummeted amid a rising U.S. death toll and the unauthorized release of classified military documents, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows.
Support for Obama's management of the war fell to 36 percent, down from 48 percent in a February poll. Now, a record 43 percent also say it was a mistake to go to war there after the terrorist attacks in 2001.
The decline in support contributed to the lowest approval ratings of Obama's presidency. Amid a lengthy recession, more Americans support his handling of the economy (39 percent) than the war.
Even Obama's handling of the war in Iraq received record-low approval, despite a drawdown of 90,000 troops and the planned, on-schedule end of U.S. combat operations there this month.
Only 41 percent of those surveyed Tuesday through Sunday approved of the way Obama is handling his job, his lowest rating in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll since he took office in January 2009. In Gallup's separate daily tracking poll, his approval was at 45 percent Monday.
The waning support for the Afghanistan war coincides with the deaths of a record 66 U.S. servicemembers in July, up from 60 in June. As the last of 30,000 reinforcements ordered by Obama enter the country, the international military force is encountering heavy Taliban resistance in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
"It's hard to find any positive news that would boost public opinion," says Richard Eichenberg of Tufts University, who studies presidential polling and foreign policy.
The drop in support also follows the online posting of more than 76,000 documents by WikiLeaks. Two-thirds of those polled said it was wrong for the website to publish the documents.
Obama said Monday that he'll stick to his war plan: training Afghans to provide their own security, then beginning to withdraw troops in July 2011. The poll showed most Americans agree: 57 percent want a timetable for removing troops, and two-thirds of those say withdrawal should be done gradually.
"We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan," Obama told the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta. "It's important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable."
In a CBS interview that aired earlier Monday, Obama said, "If I didn't think that it was important for our national security to finish the job in Afghanistan, then I would pull them out today, because I have to sign letters to these families — families who have lost loved ones."
Obama's address in Georgia was focused on this month's end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq — a commitment Obama made early last year. A force of 50,000 U.S. servicemembers will stay to train Iraqi security forces, conduct counterterrorism missions and protect civilian operations.
"Make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing, from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats," Obama said.